Warm it up, Crissy: Beloved hut is back

A warming hut conjures images of an outpost in the middle of the forest, a respite from the elements and a storehouse for survival equipment.

The Warming Hut that reopened Monday at Crissy Field is more likely to accommodate stroller-pushing parents with a taste for organic greens than a grizzled backpacker in search of trail rations.

After shutting down in January when an electric car operated by the National Park burst into flames and set the building afire, the combination cafe, bookstore and gift shop has bounced back with only a few minor changes.

“The public’s reception was pretty amazing,” National Park Service spokesman Rich Weideman said, adding that the hut is still popular with families. “The stroller brigade came out in force.”

The space, located on the park’s West Bluffs, used to be a storehouse for engineering equipment. The Warming Hut opened to the public in 2001 with a local, organic menu and sustainable building materials.

Weideman said the menu has changed slightly to accommodate complaints of slow service. The salad and children’s selection has grown while hot sandwiches are no longer on the menu.

The gift shop offers unique recycled finds, such as a birdhouse made of old license plates and stuffed animals made from donated clothing. Every dollar earned past operating expenses goes to education programs at Crissy Field, Weideman said.

The January fire started when a lightweight electric vehicle chained to a bike rack next to the wooden building caught fire. Only 5 percent of the building burned but smoke and water damage destroyed the interior.

Weideman said it wasn’t the first time an electric vehicle has caught fire on Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A similar fire happened on Alcatraz when a plugged-in Chrysler Gem exploded.

The Park Service has since decreed that the cars be parked far away from historic wooden buildings. Builders also added a fire sprinkler system in the latest renovation.

The cafe and visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to weary travelers braving the trails of Crissy Field, and with the fog blowing a chill over the Bay, the Warming Hut may serve the same purpose as its backcountry counterparts.

bbegin@examiner.com

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