DNR volunteers fix trail damage caused by winter rains

Horses, mules, all-terrain vehicles and human hands were all used Saturday to spruce up Capitol State Forest trails during the 10th annual Great Gravel Pack-In.

About 150 volunteers from more than 20 clubs worked together to repair damage caused by winter weather. Mainly, they dealt with mud. Lots and lots of mud.

This year, the group tackled a network of nonmotorized trails near the Mima Falls Campground.

“Our goal is to get the trails to a point where they’re a lot more usable,” said Nick Cronquist, a volunteer coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The volunteers divided into two groups: motorized and nonmotorized. The motorized group used all-terrain vehicles to transport gravel to damaged portions of trail, while the nonmotorized group relied mainly on mules.

This is the kind of volunteer work that Bill Rockwell and Tom Faubion have been doing for the past 35 years. They volunteer for the United States Forest Service, the state Department of National Resources, Rails-to-Trails and Mount Rainier National Park.

They brought along two mules, Ketch and Speedy, who each carried 120 pounds of gravel at a time.

Faubion explained that mules are the best animals to use while repairing trails. They’re smart, reliable and sure-footed. And he argued that the “stubborn mule” stereotype is a myth.

“People like to say that mules are stubborn, but they’re not,” Faubion said. “They’re just very intelligent, a lot smarter than horses. So they know what they want to do, and they know how to stay safe.”

He said there are two kinds of people: horse people and mule people. And Faubion’s a mule person.

Roy resident Suzanne Smith, a member of Back Country Horsemen of Pierce County, opted not to bring her animals Saturday. Instead, she worked with her husband and son to fill 30-pound buckets of gravel. When the mules came through, the gravel was loaded into panniers — large bags attached to the animals — or the buckets were strapped to boards fitted on the mules.

“They never have enough people in the loading area, so that’s what we decided to do this year,” Smith said.

Back Country Horsemen of Lewis County member Norman Green of Rochester said he’s participated in the event all 10 years — rain or shine.

“Believe me, we’ve had some really terrible weather,” Green said.