Trail advocacy groups join forces for wilderness trail improvement project
HARRISBURG, Ill. (OCTOBER 4, 2017) – 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.