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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Outdoorsy Girls Guide to: TRAIL SIGNS

Welcome to another week in the Outdoorsy Girls Guide To: ________
(which I am now calling the OGGT)
Today, we are talking about Trail Signs

Even if you consider yourself to be a serious hiker, you can learn something new in this little post of trail sign information.  Sometimes when you are following a trail, it is a very clear path in an open area (think somewhere like the desert).  The trail you are typically following is a 4 to 6 feet wide cleared compacted surface. If it crosses a grass-covered area, you’re likely to see a bare earthen path where the trail is. Trail maintainers will sometimes leave fallen logs along the side of the trail to mark its sides and channel hikers along the intended path.  Other times, you are in a dense section of woods or on a less traveled trail and you need to rely on trail signs to stay on the path.  

So you are out on a hike on your local trails and you see a bunch of blazes on the trees.  Often, its just a single blaze marking the trail you are supposed to follow ahead (hey here's the trail, head straight).  Sometimes, you get a collection of blazes in different configurations and colors.  

Color Coded Trails
Some famous long-distance hiking trails that traverse our country are blazed a specific color.   Here in New England, the famous Appalachian Trail which passes through Connecticut is blazed white.  Connecticut also has a blue-blazed trail system with more than 825 miles marked with blue rectangular blazes. The New England Trail (a 215-mile trail) starts in my hometown of Guilford, Connecticut and travels from Long Island Sound to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border.  The Long Trail blazed white travels 272 miles through Vermont.  

Blazes are placed on trees or posts, slightly above eye level so that hikers can see them easily when traveling in either direction. In areas where the trail receives winter use, blazes are placed higher so they are visible above the snow.  According to the NPS, both paint and nail-on type blazes should be 2″× 6″ vertical rectangles.  In rocky areas, you can often see the blazes painted right on the rocks.  In some spots, cairns mark the trails instead of blazes.  A cairn is a mound of rough stones built as a landmark.

Trail Signs/Patterns
Trail blazes are organized in different variations to depict the start, end, or turn in the trail.  If the blaze is raised to the top right, the trail turns right.  If the blaze is raised to the left, the trail turns left.  A single market means continue straight while three blazes mark the start or end of the trail, or the start of a spur trail. 

Trail signs telling you the trail turns right 

End of yellow trail 

Start of red trail 

Geodetic Survey Disk

Geodetic Surveys
While blazes mark the trails, geodetic markers mark the summit.  At the top of mountain summits, you will likely find this metal circle stamped into the highest point.  These circles are installed by the  US Geological Survey and/or the National Geodetic Survey.   

In 1929, the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) compiled all of the existing vertical benchmarks and created the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29). Since then, movements of the Earth's crust have changed the elevations of many benchmarks. In 1988, NGVD 29 was adjusted to remove inaccuracies and to correct distortions. The new datum, called the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88), is the most commonly used vertical datum in the United States today. 

Trail Register

Trail Registers
Another aspect to be aware of is trail registers.  Think of a trail register as a "wilderness ledger".  Usually its some time of box with a lid, or some kind of safe-guarded clipboard.  Why sign in?  First off, it could save your life as it allows rescuers to know what trail you were on, what time you left, and how many were in your group.  People can also leave notes on the trail register which includes important things like wildlife sightings, warning you of wildlife frequenting the area.  Trail registers also offer a tool for researchers to better understand trail use in that area.  If you can figure out how many hikers use a trail in a day/week/month, you can find various ways to protect and preserve the trail and wildlife around it.  

While trail signs may seem straightforward, knowing a few simple things about their color, orientation, and how they are placed is extremely helpful while out on the trail.  No matter what color trail you are following, stay safe, know your trail signs, and happy hiking! 

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