It seems being a working mule or horse on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest can be a pretty good thing – especially during the holiday season.
This is because in winter these cool mules and happy horses get a well-deserved R&R retreat after working, well, like mules all year long. Their labor is required simply for the reason that it can’t be done by people – at least not as efficiently. So, since time immemorial, these animals, like their forebears, haul stuff. A lot of stuff.
In fact, during the rest of the year, the arduous employ of these four-legged federal workers includes carrying heavy packs of supplies and trudging up and down the rough and steep trails of the Shasta-Trinity environs. This year, their 810 trips covered a distance of more than 1,100 miles and the animals carried roughly 142,000 pounds of cargo. Their haul included everything from heavy fire prevention tools, musical instruments and camp furniture to kitchen equipment.
These guys aren’t alone. All over the country mules and horses are employed by the federal government land managing agencies. They carry not only huge wielding axes and other weighty items but, in the case of the Forest Service, often tote sensitive scientific instruments used to gather data on our national forests.
For the second year, pack animals from the Shasta-Trinity have wintered at the McConnell Foundation of Redding, Calif. The foundation provides a 400 acre pasture on its land at no cost.
The animals seem to appreciate it. According to Mike McFadin, a wilderness and trails program manager for the Forest Service, once the animals let loose on the McConnell pasture recently, the horses immediately bolt for the field and the mules seem to express very little of their ill-deserved stubborn reputation as they prance about playfully nipping at each other.
The mules and horses stay on foundation land until early-spring. That’s when they head back to haul supplies through the wide expanses of the Shasta-Trinity backcountry.
Apparently not even a rainstorm could dampen the animal’s enthusiasm as they were released on the pasture. They romped and played as if knowing that until May, this was their exclusive resort.