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Two Trail Advocacy Groups help on River to River Trail improvements

Members from two trail advocacy groups recently joined forces to improve one of the most popular trails in southern Illinois: the River to River Trail. Sharing their passion for trails and love of the outdoors, members from Shawnee Trail Conservancy and Back Country Horsemen of Missouri volunteered for a service day hauling gravel by pack animal into Lusk Creek Wilderness.

Since designated wilderness provides a backcountry experience, mechanized/motorized equipment is not allowed, not even for trail maintenance. To get heavy work done in these places, such as hardening trail surfaces with stone, pack animals carry in the stone. Then, hand tools are used to spread gravel on the trail. Twenty-one volunteers joined three Forest Service employees and the Hoosier National Forest mule team to work on the project.

“It’s been interesting. This is the first time we’ve come over to Illinois with pack animals to help on the trails. It’s hard work, but very rewarding,” said Marsha Copeland with Back Country Horsemen of Missouri.

Most Shawnee Trail Conservancy members haven’t hauled with pack animals in years — or were entirely new to the experience. Sandy Poletti, the group’s director said, “Many of our members just didn’t have the animals they used to pack with a few years ago, and so Dwight Pray has been instrumental in training us in how to pack and making sure the animals and their leaders are ready to haul.”

Cedar, Paul, Belle and Lollipop – the mules from Hoosier National Forest — joined about six horses outfitted with special gravel hauling packs. Each were led in and out of wilderness by

a leader on horseback, as groups of volunteers loaded and unloaded tons of gravel on either end of the trip. Without these animal’s help, it would take weeks to carry and spread the 16 tons of native stone into the wilderness that was accomplished in one workday.

The trail maintenance project is just one of several River to River Trail improvements taking place along the 157-mile trail. It is made possible with a Forest Service grant from the National Stewardship Wilderness Alliance. Organizations such as Shawnee Trail Conservancy not only contributed $2,500 towards the matching grant, but it also is providing volunteer hours on other River to River service workdays. Shawnee Trail Conservancy extended their hospitality even further, by paying for camping fees of the Back Country Horsemen of MO at a local equine camp.

The hard work and dedication shown by these two trail organizations is proof that they want to help maintain and improve everyone’s trail experience. Through participating agreements with both groups, Shawnee National Forest hopes to continue working with them on stewardship activities that preserve the trails they love.

About Shawnee National Forest

Administered by the USDA Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest is one of 155 national forests nationwide. As the only national forest in Illinois, the Shawnee offers numerous avenues for connecting with the natural world through its 280,000 acres of varied landscape. Whether your interests lie more in outdoor recreational activities, such as hiking or camping, or include learning about the unique natural and cultural heritage of southern Illinois, the fields, forests and streams of the Shawnee welcome you. To discover more about the Shawnee National Forest, visit Follow us on Twitter at and Facebook via

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Forest Service’s Eastern Region includes 20 states in the Midwest and East, stretching from Maine, to Maryland, to Missouri, to Minnesota. There are 17 national forests and one national tallgrass prairie in the Eastern Region. For more information, visit

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit