January 2012 Wilderness Watch Guardian:
One Piece at a Time
Mules Help Rebuild Bridge, Protecting Pristine Wilderness in Montana
By Lisa Wederspahn
Epoch Times Staff
Utilizing 198 mule loads, instead of helicopters, staff at Bob Marshall Wilderness was able to repair a suspension bridge crossing the Sun River, helping to maintain the pristine wilderness for nature and solitude lovers.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness in Western Montana spans 1 million acres and is 60 miles long, making it the fifth largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states, according to Alex Gavrisheff, the operations staff officer for Lewis and Clark and Helena National Forest and engineer for Great West Engineering of Helena, Mont.
The area is a pristine wilderness with waterfalls, lakes, and a grizzly bear habitat. “It’s tough to go somewhere and not see a lot of some kind of beauty,” said Gavrisheff.
Knowing that there are wilderness areas set aside, is a great comfort to people, even for those who may never get the chance to experience them first hand, said Gavrisheff. The wilderness is a refuge for wildlife and the use of mechanized equipment or motorized vehicles are minimized or prohibited. Logging and mining are also prohibited in the area.
To repair a 128-foot wooden suspension bridge used by hikers, campers, hunters, and those traveling by horse or mule to cross over the North Fork of the Sun River, engineers used old-fashioned means. The 66-year-old bridge had been rebuilt twice before.
For the first seven miles, the materials were barged in on the Gibson reservoir, and then offloaded, where they were packed 12 miles by 198 mule loads.
The park and engineers and construction company followed official guidelines for sound stewardship in the wilderness. “We’re maintaining areas that are pristine. That’s an important concept.”
They had an option to get a waiver that would allow them to use helicopters to transport the materials to the site, but instead Gavrisheff came up with an idea to use mules to pack in the materials “one-piece-at-a-time,” as he puts it.
“Now we have a ‘light on the land’ method,” said Gavrisheff, adding that it is a solution that complies with the congressionally designated Wilderness Act of 1964. “We’re very proud of this accomplishment.”
Gavrisheff’s original idea was adapted with the help of other engineers, and further evolved when Richard May Construction, out of California, got involved. “It was a true partnership.”
“Everything was packed in with 198 mule loads,” Gavrisheff said. “A mule is able to pack 180-200 pounds, all day every day.” The packing mules were supplied by Sun Canyon Lodge in Montana.
“The mules did well. They like a good job, and they’re treated right.”
Gavrisheff said his idea was well received at a conservation engineers meeting in St. Louis, explaining that it is not a typical project at a meeting of engineers: “It’s a refreshing, unusual idea.”
The concept is being used in another Montana bridge operation, Medicine Springs Bridge, along with about 44 similar suspension trail bridges in the Northwest.