Shoshone mule pack from Wyoming provides assistance to Summit County bridge project

Eliza Noe
Summit Daily News
The Shoshone Specialty Pack String, a group from the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming, travels across the Rocky Mountain region to help with hauling materials for projects. In July, the group helped haul more than 1,000 pounds of materials north of Silverthorne.
Elaine Collins/Courtesy photo

A project that could have taken weeks with human power has been greatly shortened with the help from some furry friends from Wyoming.

For the past week, local Forest Service managers partnered with the Shoshone Specialty Pack String to haul materials for a new bridge at the Lower Boulder Lake Trail in the Gore Range and to other project sites. Each mule can carry over 100 pounds, greatly reducing the strain on human rangers or trail maintenance volunteers. A few dozen feet of bridge work will be completed by the end of the season, White River National Forest public affairs officer David Boyd said.

“We have a very old bridge on a section on the Gore Range Trail where it crosses Boulder Creek. It was old and failing, so we needed to replace that,” Boyd said. “It’s about a 32-foot-long bridge that needs to go in there. We can use what we call native materials for some of it, which are some trees from up there and that kind of thing, but it was important that we had to get up there.”

Boyd added that because of the location of the bridge in Eagles Nest Wilderness, rangers could not use motor vehicles or helicopters to transport the building supplies for the new bridge. Rangers were able to unload mules and horses near Boulder Creek Road, and the group used a foot trail to get to the bridge that needed to be repaired within the forest.

The Shoshone Specialty Pack String consists of four horses and 12 mules, along with a lead packer and assistant packer, which provide assistance on a variety of projects on Forest Service units around the Rocky Mountain Region. The group was created in response to the need for traditional packing skills during fires in 1988. Since then, the regional pack string was moved to the Pike and San Isabel National Forests in Colorado in 1992, and — after 26 years away — the pack string came back to Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest in October 2018.

In total, there were more than 1,000 pounds of materials that had to be packed and transported to the site on the backs of the mules. Rangers packed the mules with materials and hiked about 2.8 miles from the road to the site.

“If we didn’t have the pack string helping out there, then it would have been a lot of trips with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps who worked on building the bridge,” Boyd said. He added that though it’s hard to measure, the mules likely helped cut down a significant amount of time on the project.

“If we were hauling them in by hand, and we’ve done that in other other places, so much of the two weeks we would have had with the recommended core crew would have just been getting the materials to the site,” he said.

According to the Shoshone National Forest, the pack will move on to San Juan National Forest in southern Colorado to assist in clearing avalanche debris from a series of spring avalanches that collapsed in 2019. The 2021 report for the Shoshone Specialty String Pack states that last year, the group packed 386 mule loads, or 57,900 pounds, of materials and supplies over approximately 900 miles of backcountry trails.

“(The Shoshone Specialty String Pack) oversaw explosives purchase, storage and disposal for the Region 2 blasting program (and) oversaw regional blasting program logistics, including review of all blasting requests for Pike-San Isabel, Shoshone, White River and Bighorn National Forests,” the report reads.

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