HARRISBURG, Ill. (MARCH, 21 2016) – Recently, the Shawnee and Hoosier National Forests (NF) partnered with AmeriCorps Emergency Response Team (ERS) to improve the Shawnee’s Lusk Creek Wilderness trail system. For many years both of these partners have returned annually to the Shawnee NF to work cooperatively with the Shawnee NF trail crews and other volunteers. This winter AmeriCorps ERS provided a skilled trail crew and from the Hoosier NF in Indiana came, Rod Fahl, Wilderness Ranger and his string of mules. Both partners bring essential skills necessary for repairing trails in designated wilderness, since work there requires using non-mechanical/non-mechanized methods.
For six weeks, the group has been graveling a section of trail plowed last summer. Doing the heavy lifting are mules named Jack, Ruth, Bell and Paul, members of the Hoosier stock team. First the AmeriCorps team loads gravel into specially-made dump-paniers packs; 200 pounds per mule. Collectively the mules take over a quarter ton of gravel on each trip to the work site where it’s dumped into prepared turnpike structures and spread by other AmeriCorps crew members. This process is repeated numerous times each day until the trail-tread is hardened. The animals and their driver can accomplish in a few weeks what would take a larger hand crew all summer to construct. The team worked on the Wishing Well Trail, Indian Kitchen Trail, Trail #405, and Barger Branch Trail within the Lusk Creek Wilderness.
With the days of using stock for work long passed these primitive skills are not known by many. However you wouldn’t guess it by watching these groups working in sync with each other as the Hoosier mules and their leader head into some of the most remote locations of the wilderness area to meet the AmeriCorps and Shawnee Trail crew members. The trail crews are just as important, since they provide support by preparing the structures for gravel, loading and unloading the mules as well as assist in preparing the mules for the day of trail work.
Since 2005 AmeriCorps and the Hoosier Stock Team have both been fixtures in wilderness management on the Shawnee NF. The partnership has enabled the Shawnee NF to embrace the minimum tool concept in wilderness while greatly enhancing the primitive tool skills of all partners. Their work helps provide a wilderness riding experience for thousands of equestrians each year.