Photo credit: Teresa Byrd / Hungry Horse News

RAF grants are used typically to purchase building materials, with much of the labor provided by RAF volunteers. Occasionally professionals must be engaged to complete specialized tasks. When Montana’s Schafer Forest Service airstrip (8U2) needed serious grounds work this summer, RAF Montana Liaison Scott Newpower outlined the need, and an RAF grant was awarded for the project. The professionals required for this task was a team of mules and experienced mule skinners.

Schafer lies entirely within the Great Bear Wilderness Area, and as such, motorized equipment is not permitted. So in August, a team of mules was trailed in to plow and grade a 2,500-ft parallel turf runway that had fallen into disuse. The project reestablishes a proven management plan of two parallel turf runways. Using one runway for several years, then switching to the alternate, allows the “fallow” land to recover its health and natural appearance.

Teresa Byrd, reporter for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hungry Horse News was on site during the work, covering the picturesque and anachronistic task.

Byrd reported, “The project . . . finally materialized this summer through the collaboration of the Forest Service, a group of volunteers, the Montana Pilots Association and the Recreational Aviation Foundation.” Byrd reported that Jeremy Rust, Wilderness Trails Manager for the Spotted Bear Ranger District; and Guy Zoellner, Wilderness Trails Manager for Big Prairie in the Bob Marshall Wilderness took on management of the project. “The two also recruited the help of volunteers Fred Flint and Colin Milone, both seasoned packers with decades of work experience for the Forest Service,” she added in her report. Newpower was in frequent contact with Forest Service personnel, and monitored the work as well. 

Rust told Byrd that he appreciates the airstrip for the recreational possibilities it opens up for the public. “The airstrip allows this area of remote wilderness to become just another trailhead for recreators to base out of,” Rust is quoted as saying.

“If it requires a team of mules, we see that simply as part of airstrip improvement,” RAF Chairman John McKenna said. “I’m just glad I’m not the one spending all day in the dust behind a team of mules on a hot August day,” he added. 

Byrd’s delightful story includes descriptions of the antique machinery, and how the fellows restored all of it for rugged service, in spite of quirks typical of hundred-year-old iron and wood. See her complete story here.
Although the men behind the harness referred to the pair of mules as “Bella” and “Bull”, Scott continues to refer to the team as “Beech” and “Cessna.”

Submitted September 14, 2020

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