Park’s seasonal workers learn <br>the ins-and-outs of mule safety

GC VILLAGE — Working safely with mules can be an important skill to acquire when working for seven months in the inner depths of Grand Canyon National Park.

Shana Watahomigie was one of 35 seasonal employees going through mule training for inner-Canyon work. (Photo by NPS Museum Collection)

On an annual basis before sending seasonal employees downward, National Park Service officials make sure several safety issues are covered in 80 hours of training. This year’s group of 35 learned about loading mules, handling hazardous materials, using tools of the trade of trail building, handling heat stress and how to administer first aid.

Topics such as trail history, reveg projects, equal employment opportunities, endangered and threatened wildlife and cultural resources are also covered.

"Safety is a big issue. It’s a lost art of how to attach loads to these mules," said Bill Allen, trail supervisor. "It can be fairly complex. It takes a while to learn the whole process to do it safely."

In fact, 40 of the 80 hours of training involves mule packing.

The employees will work in various places around Grand Canyon, including the North Rim. This year’s list of projects includes rehab work on corridor trails.

"We’re rebuilding the Bright Angel Trail from the Indian Gardens area down toward the river," Allen said. "We’re working on the South Kaibab Trail from Phantom Ranch up. Working off the North Rim, we’ll be doing a lot of work in the Coconino section and in the red wall."

In addition, Allen said crews will handle various other tasks, such as maintaining inner-Canyon composting toilets or presenting ranger programs at Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood.

"It’s pretty thorough, they’re exposed to a lot of stuff down there," Allen said. "They need a broad base of training to competently do the job."

The mule work force includes 35 head. Allen said seven mules are assigned to each crew, which includes seven to 10 workers.

The seasonals were scheduled to head into the field Tuesday, working until Nov. 27.

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