Western Field Trip, Part 2: Hiking the Pulaski Trail
by Emily Myron -- May 31st, 2012
Just miles from Wallace, Idaho lies a trail with huge historical significance. The name “Edward Pulaski” may not be known by many, but he is certainly well-known and celebrated within the forestry and environmental community. Before continuing into Montana, we took a morning to hike the Pulaski Tunnel Trail, named for this hero who saved 40 men during the Great Fire of 1910.
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)
Not only does this trail wind through several miles of stunning North-Western conifer forests, along a crystal clear stream and moss-covered rocks, but informative signs along the trail also tell the amazing story of Pulaski and the fires. Pulaski was a U.S. Forest Service ranger in Wallace, Idaho who took on additional fire fighting responsibilities when the Great Fire of 1910 broke out. The signs paint the story of a time of rapid logging, with little regard for accumulating fuel loads in the forests. Large fuel loads and a particularly dry year created the perfect conditions for the out-of-control wildfires the swept the NW in 1910.
A bit further up the mountain, we learned of how Pulaski was suddenly caught, with 45 men, in the heart of one of these fires. Fortunately, Pulaski was familiar both with the forests he called home and the dynamics of fire, and he took control, leading his men up the mountain toward an abandoned mine shaft. Incredibly, nearly everyone made it to the mine, despite trees falling and fires raging across the mountain.
Once inside the tunnel, Pulaski moistened a blanket and hung it across the opening to reduce the amount of smoke entering the tunnel. Soon after, panic ensued, and many men tried to flee the mine, heading for certain death. Pulaski stood in the entrance to the mine with his gun, threatening to shoot anyone who left. After hours of lying on the floor of the mine in fear of death, all but 5 of the 45 men emerged – burned and battered, but alive. It is no doubt due to Pulaski’s quick thinking and selfless heroism that his men survived the fire. Today, the Pulaski tool, invented by Pulaski after the fire, continues to be used to fight wilderness fires, and so he is remembered for his accomplishment.
The story of the Great Fire of 1910 was in stark juxtaposition with the peaceful forest we walked through. The sun shone through the trees, dappling the forest floor, birds called in the trees, and small streams of water worked their way down the hill between clumps of moss and ferns. The only evidence of the fire was a single cedar snag – a lonely survivor of that day – and the entrance to the Pulaski Tunnel, which can be seen at the very top of the mountain. Both of which are a reminder of how one person, with enough courage and ingenuity, can become a hero, as well as how resilient the forest, itself, remains. Below are some photos of this beautiful hike.