Interesting.. I never realized they used horses to lug stuff up the trail. But it makes perfect sense.
Horses lend a helping hand
Dragging poles up steep trail is a walk in the park for pair of Percherons
By Mike Frassinelli
New Jersey Star-Ledger
May 2, 2005
It was a job neither man nor machine could handle.
So the state's forest service called in the cavalry.
Unsure how they would replace a wooden pedestrian bridge along a narrow stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Warren County that was leveled last year by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan, forestry officials last week brought in a pair of 1,800-pound Percheron draft horses to drag the utility poles that will anchor the replacement bridge.
It would have been nearly impossible for men or machinery to steer 38-foot-long, 1,000-pound poles through a stretch of Worthington State Forest with sloped trails as narrow as 6 feet.
Harry Bohlman, owner of 4H Timber Management in Bucks County, Pa., brought in white horse Toby and black horse Josh, each muscular and about 16 to 17 hands high, to handle the job.
Bred in medieval times to carry knights in heavy armor, Percherons are among five major breeds of draft horses (Clydesdales are another). Two summers ago, Bohlman sent Percherons for a similar bridge-building project in Sussex County's Stokes State Forest.
"Our fuel is two bales of hay a day and about a half-bushel of oats, compared to a mechanized skidder that uses 80 to 100 gallons of fossil fuel," Bohlman said.
A skidder couldn't have handled the terrain -- a dropoff into the Dunnfield Creek of more than 20 feet.
"It didn't leave any room for error," said Marc Michini, who led the horses through their paces.
So Toby and Josh, used to dragging more than 3,000 pounds of timber at a time without damaging the woods, were called in Tuesday to drag the utility poles for a half-mile.
Michini encouraged the horses, calling out, "Easy, boys" and "Relax, good boys, good boys."
"I just stood there with my jaw down, the way they maneuvered," said David Day, part of the West Jersey trail crew for the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. "I swear to God they, they went faster than I could get up that trail myself, and I don't think they made as much of a mess out of the trail as I do walking along. These horses barely left a mark."
For Day, who grew up in Maryland and remembered watching horses work on farms, it was kind of a throwback.
Percherons -- named for the French region of Le Perche where they originated -- understand commands of "Haw" to turn left and "Gee" to turn right. They are so big that a saddle horse's horseshoes can fit inside those of a Percheron.
And they work relatively cheap -- about $800 for the project last week.
The remainder of the Dunnfield Creek deck bridge is being built as part of a volunteer effort among 15 people.
Near the waterfalls of the creek, just a couple of miles from the Delaware Water Gap toll bridge on Route 80, the previous bridge was among several ravaged by the remnants of Ivan in September.
Ivan, ice storms and last month's flooding have wreaked havoc on the state forest service's bridges.
Ivan was so strong that it moved a 1,000-pound stone in Dunnfield Creek that was put in as a step.
Bridges outside the state forest system didn't fare much better.
The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission last year put aside $500,000 for emergency repairs to two of its Warren County crossings, including a Phillipsburg bridge struck by a wayward cottage and a service road along the Delaware Water Gap toll bridge where a drainage pipe broke.
Only one of the half-dozen bridges that used to be on Dunnfield Creek is still standing, Day said. The Dunnfield Creek trail has been closed since Ivan.
The bridges may or may not be replaced. Some might instead use stepping stones as a way to get across the water. Other paths might be rerouted.
"Bridges are relatively rare in the trail-building world, because they are very labor intensive," Day said. "They are maintenance intensive -- they rot and you've got to fix them. The preferred way to get across a creek, generally speaking, is step stones."
Unless, of course, you have access to 1,800-pound, pole-dragging horses.
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