State park system grows attached to mulcher attachment
Lackawanna State Park, located 10 miles north of Scranton, Pa., is an ideal environment for invasive species such as multiflora rose, autumn olive and Tartarian honeysuckle. Left unchecked, these nuisance varieties can quickly overtake an area, crowding out native species.
Stout and his crews had a Bobcat S250 skid steer loader with McClaren mud tracks and were searching for an attachment to aid in resource management efforts. The mulching attachment that they chose—a Fecon Bull Hog—gave them the ability to handle not only their invasive-species problems but also their boundary maintenance, trail grooming, no-till planting site prep, roadside vegetation maintenance and more. The mulcher, which is powered by the Bobcat’s hydraulics, has proven to be useful in a variety of brush-clearing tasks.
Mulcher yields time savings
Municipal land stewards are pressed for time, with more projects on hand than can be completed. Back in the pre-mulcher days, many of these projects were completed by hand—which meant multiple workers with loppers. Stout has seen an exponential increase in productivity with the Fecon Bull Hog.
Stout notes an example from the pre-mulcher days in which workers “cleared an area of about 3 acres near one of the park buildings.”
“It was heavily infested with honeysuckle and other invasives—which had to be cleared by hand,” Stout recalls.
The project took 260 man-hours for the clearing, and there still were brush piles to dispose of (typically accomplished by running the brush through a chipper).
“With the Bull Hog, we can do that same 3-acre tract in about three days, or 24 man-hours,” Stout says. “And that includes the mulching of the brush, so there is no added time or cost.”
Once cleared, fields can be maintained with standard flail or rotary mowers. A once-a-year mowing usually is sufficient to keep the predatory species under control.
For large tracts of land, state parks might use bulldozers or tracked equipment to rip out the offending species. While this method is effective at removing the invasives, it creates mounds of residual waste, typically stockpiled in hedgerows alongside fields. In addition to poor aesthetics, this method leaves the areas all but impassable.
With the Bull Hog, however, the previously stockpiled material is shredded into mulch, which stays on the ground to reduce erosion. As the mulch breaks down, it adds nutrients to the soil, increasing tilth and fertility. An added benefit to the Bull Hog design is that it can mulch down to or below ground level. This has proven beneficial for addressing stumps and for no-till planting preparations, according to Stout.
While invasive-species-control and field reclamation typically are the impetus for state parks to purchase the Bull Hog, the mulcher’s usefulness extends to other applications—such as boundary maintenance.
Boundary maintenance includes clearing of border areas and posting signage. Often, these areas are densely overgrown and have received little, if any, attention in years (maybe decades). The Bull Hog mulcher clears a path along the border, allowing park employees to post signage alerting passersby that they are entering a state park or safety zone.
In one instance at the Lackawanna State Park Complex, the Bull Hog helped define a safety zone in a hunting area that abuts private property. Using the Bull Hog, park employees “blazed” a path through an old brush field popular for hunting to define the safety zone.
Before the Bull Hog, Stout explains, such a project “would have taken us a week or days.”
“With the unit—the path we had to blaze was maybe 350 feet long—we basically did it in one morning,” Stout says.
The Bull Hog has proven to be a real time-saver for trail maintenance and the creation of new trails. Previously, trail grooming was accomplished by crews armed with loppers and chippers—a time-consuming process. However, time was not a luxury available to Stout, who tends to the approximately 20 miles of trails at the Lackawanna State Park Complex or the roughly 500 miles of trails within the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks Region 4 Office.
The Bull Hog makes quick work of the vegetation encountered while grooming existing trails or blazing new ones. After processing unwanted vegetation, the Bull Hog leaves a carpet of mulch—which is an ideal trail surface—in its wake.
The Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks purchased the Bull Hog through the Lackawanna State Park Complex, but the unit is being used as “swing equipment.” In other words, the Bull Hog is being shared by the 26 parks within Region 4.
On transporting the Bull Hog, Stout explains: “We have a low-boy trailer pulled by a tractor trailer and some 5-ton trucks with smaller low-boy-type trailers.” According to Stout, the Bull Hog/Bobcat combination is easy to load onto either of the trailers for transport to the job site.
Stout points out that the unit’s easy transportability is just one reason why the state recently purchased a second Bull Hog.
While the ease of movement is certainly a benefit, the No. 1 advantage is the time savings over manual labor. A close second, according to Stout, is the elimination of residual waste.
“We eliminate the whole issue of stockpiling waste,” Stout says. “We can even grind stumps to ground level, or below. In a couple of weeks you can go back over the area with a flail or rotary mower, so that it stays under control.”
Eliminating labor allows the land to be reseeded with native vegetation faster and cheaper. It’s a winning strategy for this northeastern Pennsylvania park district and the residents who enjoy the parks’ many amenities.
Lebanon, Ohio-based Fecon Inc. provided this case history.