Mules on the Maah Daah HeyMEDORA — Volunteers and employees have put thousands of hours into keeping the Maah Daah Hey and Maah Daah Hey Two trails places for pleasant recreational experiences. Now mules have stepped in to help.
MEDORA — Volunteers and employees have put thousands of hours into keeping the Maah Daah Hey and Maah Daah Hey Two trails places for pleasant recreational experiences. Now mules have stepped in to help.
While young, tanned-skinned college students shoveled small gravel pebbles with fine aggregate into buckets, loaded them on four-wheelers and headed down the Maah Daah Hey Two off of East River Road Tuesday, eight mules carried much heavier loads to help in upgrading the trail.
In two days the mules took 20 one-mile roundtrips. On each trip they carried 200 pounds, delivering 32,000 pounds in two days. Along with their saddle and equipment, they carry about 240 pounds each. And they aren’t done, said Bob Hoverson, program manager for the Northern Region Pack Train with the U.S. Forest Service.
Though they work hard, Bart, Bert, Dutchess, Rufus, Tess, Palmer, Ernie and Sadie are spoiled, Hoverson said. They are given regular saddle adjustments and plenty of food and water.
At the end of a near 90-degree day Tuesday, they were taken to Buffalo Gap. As soon as they were led into the pen for the night, each took its turn rolling around on the ground, shaking off a hard day’s work and stopping for a cool drink of water and a rest before their next day, which begins at daylight.
“These are a necessary tool to get the job done,” Hoverson said of the mules. “Where we do work in the wilderness, it’s the only way.”
The mules are led by Hoverson, who rides alongside on another mule, and packer Mark Pengelly, who rides a horse. Each mule’s saddlebag is filled with the resurfacing material and folded and knotted. When they get to the desired destination, the knot is undone, releasing the aggregate.
Forest Service Trails Manager with Dakota Prairie Grasslands Dan Glasser, Dickinson, said his department requested the pack come to Medora to assist with trail upgrades.
“It saved a lot of manpower,” he said. “They are able to do things that can’t be done with machinery.”
This includes going places on the 27-mile Maah Daah Hey Two Trail that, when complete, will run from Bully Pulpit to Burning Coal Vein Campground. They go places that are not accessible to any type of vehicle.
The pack team comes from Ninemile Ranger Station near Missoula, Mont. They have a full schedule and arrived in Medora Friday and will work here until Thursday. In a year, they will pack well over 100,000 pounds, Hoverson said.
Aggregate is out of the norm for these packers, as their cargo usually is tools, groceries, water and more to those working in wilderness areas — often the Bob Marshall Wilderness in western Montana, where about 300 workers live in remote cabins.
The pack strings started in 1990 and can go anywhere in the United States, said Sharon Small, Forest Service public affairs officer from the Bismarck office.
The Forest Service has about 1,100 mules and horses that it uses, she said, adding “They are in pretty high demand for places it is hard to get to with a vehicle.”