Friday Feel-Good Story: Glenn Ryan and the Rocky Mountain Packstring

Here’s a human interest/ Forest Service history story for Friday. It’s about employee Glenn Ryan and the Region 2 Packstring, from the Colorado Springs Gazette.

SHAWNEE – In the late 1960s, freshly removed from college for what he says were false accusations of “mouthing off,” Glenn Ryan did not go home. He hit the road and slept where he could, under trees or in chicken coops.

“Spent about three years being a bum,” he says, “which was actually training for this job.”

Now he’s spent 13 years living in Colorado forests, working as an Old West packer, leading a string of mules that make up one of the last two hooved trains across the U.S. Forest Service.

“If it involves getting dirty, bloody and blistered, then we’ll work with ya,” says Ryan, 67, a Forest Service employee who rides horseback while commanding the Rocky Mountain Specialty Pack String.

The Rocky Mountain Field Institute, a Colorado Springs nonprofit, has called upon Ryan’s string yearly to deliver thousands of pounds of equipment to a base camp deep in the wilderness surrounding Kit Carson Peak.

Other frequent requests come from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, which also employs trail builders on the state’s highest mountains and counts on the mules to move heavy necessities such as tools and stoves.

“The amount of work and the type of work he does is just mind-blowing,” says Ryan’s boss, Brian Banks, head of the South Platte Ranger District. “There really are very few professions left in the world like that, and his is not only one of the most unique positions, but also one of the most dangerous. It’s one of the most difficult positions in the Forest Service.”

Ryan spends summer days driving a trailer around the state and beyond; missions are also in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, South Dakota’s Black Hills and Nebraska’s grasslands. Often his team of 11 mules starts before sunrise and finishes after sunset, performing as their ancestors did.

Here’s the link to the packstring site itself.

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