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.

3 thoughts on “Friday Feel-Good Story: Glenn Ryan and the Rocky Mountain Packstring”

  1. are you aware that the region 2 office has decided to close down this pack string for reasons that it is not economically efficient, I any thing for the forest service. This is the last pack string for Colorado. They are moving the mules to Wyoming and saying Good bye to Glen. Barbara Timrock is the human resource director to contact for additional information

  2. Yes, Shane, my understanding is that the pack string is not being shut down but moved to another Region 2 site in Wyoming as you said. Here’s the note from Dave Condit, Deputy Forest Supe on the PSICC (where the pack string is presently located).

    I am sending this out to ensure all are aware of the decision on Specialty Pack String (a.k.a. Regional Pack String.) The PSICC commissioned a team to evaluate the Pack String and identify sustainable options. The team evaluated and developed alternatives for presentation to the R-2 Forest Supervisor/Regional Forester Team. On Monday, March 12th, that team made the decision to move the Pack String to the Shoshone National Forest. The details and timing of the move are to be determined, but the move will take place within the year. The team decided this option keeps the structure and heritage intact and is sustainable for the future. Because the String had work scheduled this this coming field season, the PSICC will coordinate with individual stakeholders on implications and options.

    The decision created a way ahead that preserves the long history of this asset. The return to the Shoshone (the Pack String’s original home) is another step on this long and proud journey. Please share this information within your organizations and with partners as necessary.

    This might be the kind of FS activity for which retirees and others might want to step up and help fund. It’s hard to have history and culture be competitive in federal budgets when campgrounds are being shut down due to lack of funds.

  3. Thanks for posting this information. I worked as one of the Region 2 Specialty Pack String packers in the early 2000s.

    I would imagine the Shoshone could use the mules. But it isn’t very central to the rest of the Region. A lot of travel time if the string is still going to be used on other forests.

    Anyways good to hear the Region is doing what it can to make sure the string survives.
    Kind regards


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