SHERIDAN — While plenty of snow still exists on the Bighorn Mountains, it’s a critical time for the Tongue River Ranger District. As the weather begins to warm and the snow gradually disappears, Sara Evans Kirol of the U.S. Forest Service and her team are prepping for a couple big trail projects this summer.
One of those projects — along the Bucking Mule Falls Trail — is one of the larger ones Kirol has tackled in recent memory.
“The thing that makes this one complex is it has so many logistics because it’s so remote,” Kirol said. “We can just drive in with a pickup truck and unload all our gear.
“We’ve done projects that are bigger than this, but this one is just so remote that it’s difficult to get everything there,” Kirol continued. “You have to have all these other support parts to help you do it.”
Pack mules represent one of the more unique support parts of the Bucking Mule Falls Trail project. The Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming has reinvigorated its pack-mule program and began to work on tasks throughout the state and region.
The mules will make their way to the Bighorn National Forest in August and play an impactful role on the trails.
Kirol hasn’t worked with pack mules all that much in her career. However, after taking into account the sheer remoteness and rough terrain of Bucking Mule Falls, a pack line of mules stood as the best option.
A risk assessment for the area was calculated to see if the use of a helicopter would be more efficient, but the cost of a chopper and the labor it would take to fell trees for a landing area, quickly stacked up.
In order for the mules to access the three bridges along the trail — which need decking and handrails replaced — a trail crew will first clear all of the fallen debris and trees that lie along the path.
Once cleared, the line of 8-10 mules, which cost about $15,000-20,000, will carry supplies to each of the three bridge locations along the path.
The pack line will make multiple trips back and forth to drop off all the needed supplies.
Volunteers from the local Cloud Peak Back Country Horsemen will transport tools and camp supplies into the area for the trail crew and Montana Conservation Corps to utilize.
Workers will camp overnight at each location as they work to complete all three projects.
Kirol also has a couple other projects that she and her team will work on early this summer. The Gilead area will have many of its wire mesh baskets, which help prevent erosion along the trail, replaced as existing ones are worn out or damaged.
The Tongue Ranger District will also complete 150 miles of basic trail maintenance across the Bighorn National Forest.
Forest officials will also hold a National Trails Day event June 8, when volunteers and outdoor enthusiasts come out and help restore and improve existing trail systems.