News Archive

News

October 1, 2019

Trail Markers

John Omohundro


Fig. 1: A marker from before 1926 when the commission was changed to a department.


Fig. 2: When the Adirondack Mountain Club did trail work on Forest Preserve for the state before 2000, it posted its own logo. Now ADK markers are only on ADK land.


Fig. 3: A contemporary plastic marker on the N-P Trail.


Fig. 4: The DEC of today was created by legislation in 1970, so this older marker had to go: the name is changed.


Fig. 5: Four ways to say it: recent (post- 1970) markers.


Fig. 6: An old white ATIS marker and a modern red one. White was deemed too hard to notice on some trees.


Fig. 7: A recent ATIS marker for easement lands— a new category arising in the 1990s. The land is privately owned but the state owns the right to allow the public on it.

When Ebenezer Emmons and his party climbed Marcy in 1837, they didn’t have a clear path with trail markers guiding them. I presume they bushwhacked the entire route. Today, admittedly, the trails are so frequently trod that the hiker probably doesn’t need markers most of the time. But at junctions, it’s nice to know that blue goes that way and red goes that way… And on snowy winters before a snowshoer passes through, sometimes the only indication of the trail is a marker. So what’s the marker’s story?

For the Forest Preserve’s first three decades, there weren’t any official trail markers. The state’s conservation commission, the predecessor of DEC, thought of itself as timber protector; it didn’t make an effort to enhance outdoor recreation until after World War One. In 1922, a new activist DEC commissioner, George D. Pratt, began spending money on trails, campgrounds, and lean-tos in the Adirondacks. That year he also joined forces with some other New York notables to found the Adirondack Mountain Club, which further accelerated development for hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

In ADK’s first magazine, High Spots (Vol 6 no 2 June 1929) we learn that as it began this flurry of trail building, the state recognized the need for a relatively inexpensive and foolproof system of marking the trails. It decided that traditional paint blazes would not work to guide the inexperienced public, because surveyers, trappers, property owners, and lumbermen all used blazes, so confusion would result. (The White Mountains trails today still have only paint blazes, no trail markers, but those trails are very well defined, and the blazes often continue onto open rock above tree line, providing consistency of marking).

An early trail guide (Trails to Marcy by A. S. Hopkins, published by NYS Conservation Department, 1927, p 6) informed the reader that the state was posting three-inch round metal markers that read “State of New York Conservation Commission - TRAIL MARKER”, one intentionally similar in shape and size (but not image) to the markers put up where ADK was maintaining trails (Figs. 1 and 2). ADK’s markers were initially embossed as well as printed. Today on club property the markers are made of plastic.

Northville-Placid Trail by William G. Howard (published by ADK in 1924, page 10) reports that the N-P Trail set up the year before also had three-inch circular metal ADK markers — these in blue on white, with an image similar to this contemporary one (Fig. 3).

By 1929 the standard marker was a circular metal disk in bright color reading “Conservation Department Trail Marker” (the commission had become a department) nailed to trees where blazes used to be painted (Fig. 4). Some markers were made of leather or coated paperboard, probably due to wartime shortages. Most were aluminum, because they wouldn’t rust.

Markers came in three colors: blue for trails tending N and S, red for trails tending E and W, and yellow for diagonals. This color-coding eventually broke down somewhat as trails proliferated.

Tony Goodwin, my go-to guy for history, reports that in 2000 the DEC decided that only state markers could be posted on Forest Preserve. This is probably because many volunteer groups were helping with trail work and each wanted to post its own logo.

Today, besides generic trail markers the state also posts cyclist, snowmobile, horse trail, ski trail, nature trail, and carry trail markers, each with a slightly different image (Fig. 5). Adirondack Trail Improvement Society (ATIS) posts its own small round metal disks at Ausable Club (Figs. 6 and 7). The Olympic Regional Development Agency (ORDA) has nailed up a few small round metal markers with its own logo to mark its trail up Bear Den near Whiteface—so few I’ve gotten lost twice. The Champlain Area Trails System (CATS) uses diamond-shaped pieces of yellow plastic with a cat paw or an arrow (nice idea!).

I am indebted to Tom Wheeler, Laurentian Chapter, for sharing his extensive Adirondack book collection for this research. I also found a fellow enthusiast at the website “Hiking New York Adirondacks” (https://hikingnyadirondacks.blogspot.com).

News Archive

Oct 2, 2019: Annual Meeting

Oct 1, 2019: Trail Markers

Oct 1, 2019: Electronic Distribution of the North Wind

Jul 1, 2019: National Trails Day 2019

Apr 1, 2019: Red Sandstone Trail Volunteers Needed

Apr 1, 2019: Recreation Management Plans

Apr 1, 2019: Chapter Member Writes Trails Book

Apr 1, 2019: 2019 Photo Contest Announced

Jan 3, 2019: Invasive Forest Pest Meeting

Jan 1, 2019: Second ADK Cycle Outing

Jan 1, 2019: Outside The High Peaks Region

Dec 6, 2018: Fran Yardley To Speak

Nov 12, 2018: 2018 Photo Contest Winners Announced

Nov 6, 2018: Trail Maintenance Weekend 2018

Oct 1, 2018: First ADK Cycle Outing

Jul 1, 2018: SUNY Potsdam Educational Affiliate Program

Jun 22, 2018: 2018 Photo Contest Announced

Jun 18, 2018: September Acadia Outing

Apr 5, 2018: Military Exercises In Northern Adirondacks

Apr 1, 2018: Who Are Our Members

Apr 1, 2018: Happy Birthday Azure Mountain Fire Tower

Apr 1, 2018: Chapter Representation on Advisory Committees

Jan 5, 2018: E-Letter Editor Wanted

Jan 1, 2018: Paul Jamieson and the Jamieson Fund

Nov 19, 2017: 2017 Photo Contest Winners Announced

Nov 1, 2017: 2017 Trail Maintenance Weekend

Oct 1, 2017: Trailwork by ADK

Oct 1, 2017: Bylaws Review

Jul 1, 2017: North Country Cycling Guide

May 31, 2017: Marie Fernandez de Alaiza Completes 46

Apr 1, 2017: Great Lakes Water Levels

Mar 15, 2017: Extended New Brunswick Outing Proposed

Jan 1, 2017: Boreas Ponds

Jan 1, 2017: 2017 Photo Contest Announced

Dec 2, 2016: Camp Colby Scholarships Available

Nov 29, 2016: Winter 2017 Outdoors-Indoors Schedule Announced

Nov 21, 2016: Wilderness Thru-hiking to Wilderness Advocacy

Nov 16, 2016: 2016 Photo Contest Winners Announced

Oct 1, 2016: Membership Survey Preliminary Results

Oct 1, 2016: John Omohundro Passes The Torch

Sep 8, 2016: 2017 Extended Outings Proposed

Apr 1, 2016: Solarize

Mar 29, 2016: 2016 Photo Contest Announced

Mar 17, 2016: Teen Trail Project Scholarships Available

Jan 6, 2016: Perry Yaw Commemorative Quilt

Dec 2, 2015: Trail Work Day Attracts Huge Turnout

Dec 2, 2015: Outdoors-Indoors Schedule Announced

Dec 1, 2015: 2015 Photo Contest Winners Announced

Sep 17, 2015: RRAC Explained

Sep 17, 2015: Oswegatchie Blueway Open Houses Scheduled

Jul 1, 2015: Perry H Yaw Jr

Jul 1, 2015: Ididaride Annual Biking Event

May 5, 2015: SUNY Potsdam Wilderness Education Mountain-A-Thon Training Exercise

Apr 1, 2015: Spring

Apr 1, 2015: Educational Affiliate Program Expands

Jan 1, 2015: Call for Distinguished Volunteer Nominations

Jan 1, 2015: 2015 Photo Contest Opens

Nov 27, 2014: 2014 Photo Contest Winners Announced

Nov 27, 2014: 2014 Photo Contest Winners Announced - Copy

Nov 17, 2014: St Lawrence Flatlands UMP Hearing

Oct 1, 2014: Chapter Offers Outing Leadership Training Course

Jul 1, 2014: Jean Hardy, 1926-2014

Jul 1, 2014: ADK and Trails

Apr 14, 2014: 2014 Member Nature Poetry

Apr 4, 2014: Stone Valley Management Plan Finalized

Apr 1, 2014: Educational Affiliate Program Gathers Momentum

Mar 24, 2014: North Country National Scenic Trail

Dec 30, 2013: Stone Valley Management Plan Review

Dec 6, 2013: 2014 Photo Contest Opens

Nov 12, 2013: 2013 Photo Contest Winners Announced

Oct 1, 2013: Spring Outing Retrospective

Sep 6, 2013: Finch Pruyn-Essex Chain Action Alert

Aug 22, 2013: Ragnar Relay Race

Jul 1, 2013: New Trails for Stone Valley

Jun 27, 2013: North Country Trails Membership

Jun 19, 2013: Spring Outing A Great Success

Apr 2, 2013: Laurentian Loon Shirts

Apr 1, 2013: Brian Baston, 46r

Dec 21, 2012: New Chapter Officers Elected

Dec 6, 2012: 2013 Photo Contest Opens

Nov 27, 2012: 2012 Photo Contest Winners Announced

Jul 17, 2012: Raquette River Documentary

Apr 1, 2012: Acadia Trip Sept 2012

Jan 21, 2012: Stone Valley Trail Maintenance A Mammoth Undertaking

Jan 1, 2012: 2012 Photo Contest Announced

Nov 19, 2011: Peter Blood and Toni Towle Finish the 46

Nov 19, 2011: Moose Talk At Fall Potluck (1)

Nov 16, 2011: 2011 Photo Contest Winners Announced

Nov 9, 2011: Sherman Craig Nominated To APA

Oct 16, 2011: Mt Arab Vandalised

Oct 1, 2011: GPS Group Forming

Jul 23, 2011: Allegany State Park Action Alert

Jul 2, 2011: Stone Valley Trail Report

Jul 2, 2011: Red Sandstone Trail Report

Jul 2, 2011: Friends of Higley Flow Capital Campaign

Jul 1, 2011: JBL Seeks All-Season Hosts

Apr 29, 2011: JBL Seeks Volunteer Hosts

Apr 1, 2011: Outings Announced

Feb 25, 2011: 2011 Fall Outing

Feb 4, 2011: Tug Hill Winter Outing

Dec 9, 2010: 2010 Photo Contest Winners Announced

Nov 21, 2010: Omohundro Whalen Distinguished Volunteers

Sep 22, 2010: Nominees Announced

Sep 22, 2010: Fall Potluck to Feature Permaculture Talk

Sep 22, 2010: Bylaw Changes Proposed

Sep 15, 2010: Dogs on Chapter Trips

Aug 16, 2010: Raquette River Information Center Opens

Jul 27, 2010: Raquette River Information Center To Open

Jun 2, 2010: Sacred Tools Exhibit

May 26, 2010: Plants of St Lawrence County

Apr 13, 2010: Chapter Basket Donations Needed

Mar 23, 2010: Second Annual Photo Contest Announced

Mar 22, 2010: Laurentians Invited To Colorado

Mar 21, 2010: Spring Potluck To Feature Northern Canoe Route

Jan 1, 2010: Calling Kids For Camp Colby

Nov 8, 2009: 2009 Photo Contest Results

Oct 1, 2009: Brian Mann To Address Annual Meeting

Oct 1, 2009: Archivist Needed

Jul 1, 2009: Raquette River Awareness Week

May 23, 2009: Tom Wheeler Elected 46ers President

Apr 30, 2009: Cutters Receive Award

Mar 31, 2009: Spring Potluck

Mar 30, 2009: Photo Contest

Mar 29, 2009: Hospitality Coordinator Needed

Mar 21, 2009: Gloria Daly Completes Winter 46

Mar 16, 2009: Lyle Montgomery Completes Winter 46

Dec 23, 2008: Chapter to Sponsor Campers at Camp Colby

Nov 2, 2008: Anna Gerhard-Arnold Recognized

Oct 1, 2008: Roy Horst to Speak at Fall Potluck

Sep 13, 2008: Tom Wheeler Receives Award

Aug 3, 2008: SLC EMC hosts NYS Conference on Environment

Jun 10, 2008: Lows Lake Floatplanes Action Alert

Mar 22, 2008: Winter On The Red Sandstone Trail

Mar 15, 2008: Nancy LaBaff Completes Winter 46

Mar 1, 2008: Environmental Protection Fund Being Raided

Feb 15, 2008: Red Sandstone Trailworker Tshirt

Nov 28, 2007: Hearings on National Scenic Trail

Nov 26, 2007: Laurentian Chapter To Sponsor Campers

Nov 11, 2007: Annual Meeting Highlights

Sep 27, 2007: Clarence and Paul

Sep 26, 2007: Neil Woodworth To Visit

Sep 25, 2007: Red Sandstone Trail Report

Jul 1, 2007: Legislature Passes EPF Enhancement Act

Mar 22, 2007: Call for Adirondack Stories

Mar 17, 2007: Mud Season Potluck Features Stuart Mesinger

Jan 25, 2007: Chapter Endorses Grace Peak Proposal

Jan 15, 2007: Public Comment Requested

Jan 1, 2007: Paddle The Rideau

Jan 1, 2007: Calling Kids For Camp Colby

Nov 28, 2006: Dick Mooers Named Distinguished Volunteer

Oct 2, 2006: Laurentian Chapter Hosts 2006 Fall Outing

Sep 1, 2006: Update on SLC ATV Trail Plan

Aug 30, 2006: Teens Complete Stone Valley Trail Work

Aug 28, 2006: Stone Valley - A Community Resource

Aug 28, 2006: Keeping Stone Valley Trails Open

Aug 25, 2006: White Hill Draft UMP Released

Aug 25, 2006: ATV Plan Comment Period

Jul 1, 2006: Raquette Boreal Forest Plan Moves Forward

Jun 6, 2006: Piercefield Dam Whitewater Release

Apr 21, 2006: Natural History Museum Seeks Volunteers

Apr 2, 2006: Peter OShea Addresses ADK

Mar 29, 2006: Laurentian Chapter To Host Fall Outing

Feb 28, 2006: High School Trails Program Seeks Participants

Jan 4, 2006: Chapter at Remington Gala

Dec 16, 2005: Camp Colby Youth Summer Camp

Dec 1, 2005: Paddlers Rights

Nov 12, 2005: Higley Flow Leanto Dedicated

Nov 6, 2005: Sandy Hildreth and Eileen Wheeler Honored

Oct 16, 2005: Stone Valley Trail Maintenance

Oct 4, 2005: Laurentian Chapter Hosts 2006 Fall Outing

Oct 3, 2005: Annual Meeting November 6

Oct 2, 2005: Friends of Mt Arab Seeks Volunteers

Sep 12, 2005: Proposed Bylaws

Aug 25, 2005: Musings On The Word Laurentian

Aug 25, 2005: Higley Flow Leanto

Aug 25, 2005: An Adirondack Diet

Aug 20, 2005: Bear Canisters

Aug 15, 2005: Firetowers

Aug 10, 2005: Executive Director Visits

Aug 5, 2005: National Trails Day

Aug 1, 2005: New Publicity Coordinator