HARRISBURG, IL (KFVS) - Two trail advocacy groups recently collaborated on improving the River to River Trail. Members from the Shawnee Trail Conservancy and Back Country Horseman of Missouri payed tribute to their love of the outdoors by holding a service day in which they hauled gravel into Lusk Creek wilderness.
Because the designated wilderness champions a backcountry experience, motorized equipment is prohibited. In order to complete heavy work in these spaces, including hardening trailer surfaces with stone, pack animals haul the stone. Hand tools are then used to spread gravel on the trail. A total of twenty-one volunteers helped the Forest Service employees and the Hoosier National Forest mule team to complete this feat.
"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.
The majority of the Shawnee Trail Conservancy members have not used pack animals in years. 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 that donned custom gravel hauling packs. If it weren't for these animals' help, it would have taken weeks to carry and spread the 16 tons of native stone into the wilderness. The task was completed in just one day.
The trail maintenance project is just one of a variety of River to River Trail improvements happening along the 157-mile trail. It is made possible thanks to 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 even payed for camping fees of the Back Country Horsemen of MO at a local equine camp.
Clearly, the two trail organizations have shown their commitment to improving everyone's trail experience through their hard work and dedication on this project. Through participating agreements with both groups, Shawnee National Forest hopes to keep working with them on stewardship activities that preserve the trails they love.