Bad Trail Blaze Removal, Trail Work

October 2011 - Trail blaze along the Mount Tecumseh Trail (ski area side) in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
October 2011 – New Trail Blaze, Mt Tecumseh Trail
 

Bad Trail Blaze Removal, Trail Work Since 2011, I have been making regular trips to Waterville Valley in New Hampshire to photograph a yellow birch tree that has fallen victim to vandalism. I am using repeat photography, also known as photo monitoring, to show the impact of improper trail blaze removal. This type of photography is useful for educating land stewards and others about responsible environmental stewardship.

In October of 2011, I documented newly applied trail blazing (above) along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in Waterville Valley. Sometime in the spring of 2012, the blaze on the left side of the yellow birch tree in the above image was improperly removed from the tree. And a large wound (below) where rot, fungus, and insects could enter the tree was visible. The bark, where the blaze was, appeared to have been cut and peeled away from the tree.

March 2012 - A painted trail blaze that has been removed (by cutting and peeling) from a yellow birch tree along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. This blaze was painted on the tree in 2011, and then removed from the tree in the spring of 2012.
March 2012 – Freshly Removed Trail Blaze, Mt Tecumseh Trail
 

In March of 2012, when I found this fresh blaze wound, I reported it to Forest Service. And after communicating with them, it seems they were not the ones who removed the blaze from the tree. I also inquired about proper trail blaze removal procedures, and here is what the Ranger had to say:

When blazes are removed from trees it is generally done with a wire brush though many of the brushes carried by our field staff have a paint scraper integrated into the same tool. The bark is usually not cut intentionally or peeled off. The one exception might be if the blaze were on a mature paper birch. We discourage the use of birches for blazing but in some places they're the only option.

Blaze removal is most likely done by USFS field staff (trail crews or backcountry rangers) or the partner organization responsible for the maintenance of the trail. Occasionally it may be done by trail adopters or other authorized volunteers. Anyone not under a formal agreement with the USFS is not authorized to remove blazes.

The Ranger provided an easy to understand protocol for properly removing trail blazing, and said the bark is usually not cut intentionally or peeled off the tree when removing a blaze.

October  2013 - A wound on a yellow birch tree along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in New Hampshire. This wound is the result of mankind not properly removing a painted trail blaze from the tree. The blaze was painted on the tree in 2011, and then improperly removed (by cutting and peeling) from the tree in the spring of 2012.
October 2013 – Healing Trail Blaze Wound, Mt Tecumseh Trail
 

In October of 2013 (above), the blaze wound was healing, and more of the bark around the wound was starting to peel. At this point, I wondered why this blaze was removed improperly from the tree to begin with. Is it lack of training on the part of organizations who are responsible for overseeing the White Mountain National Forest or is it that people just don't care? No matter how you look at this its vandalism to the environment.

November 2014 - A painted trail blaze that has been removed (by cutting and peeling) from a yellow birch tree along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. This blaze was painted on the tree in 2011, and then removed from the tree in the spring of 2012. The blaze was not removed by Forest Service.
November 2014 – Healing Trail Blaze Wound, Mt Tecumseh Trail
 

In November of 2014 (above), the blaze wound continued to heal and looked ugly. It was a little upsetting to see the tree in this condition, even more so knowing there is proper protocol in place to prevent this type of damage from happening. There would be no tree wound if proper protocol had been followed.

May 2015 - A trail blaze that has been removed by cutting and peeling from a yellow birch tree along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. This blaze was painted on the tree in the 2011 season, then removed in the spring of 2012.
May 2015 – Healing Trail Blaze Wound, Mt Tecumseh Trail
 

In May of 2015 (above), the blaze wound continued to heal, and the tree is permanently damaged. The cutting and peeling of the bark will not likely kill the tree, but it will set it back for life. To date, no one has claimed responsibility for vandalizing this tree. And I suspect no one will, but this series of images can influence us to be better land stewards. And after four years documenting this tree it’s time for me to move on to a new project. See below, I have decided to contine documenting this bad trail blaze removal.

October 2016 - A man-made wound on a yellow birch tree along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in New Hampshire. This wound is the direct result of man not using proper protocol to remove a painted trail blaze from the tree. The blaze was painted on the tree in 2011, and then improperly removed (by cutting and peeling the bark off) from the tree in the spring of 2012.
October 2016 – Healing Trail Blaze Wound, Mt Tecumseh Trail
 

In October of 2016 (above), after a recent visit to the Mt Tecumseh Trail, I noticed that the blaze wound had closed up considerably. And because of this I have decided to continue documenting this bad practice of trail blaze removal. I want to see if this man made tree wound is going to fully close.

I do not consider this to be responsible trail stewardship. And because man willfully damaged this tree I view it as vandalism to the National Forest. The damage done to this tree is no different than graffiti painted on a rock only the graffiti can be removed.

In this day and age of conservation, many consider the non-conforming cut trail blazes and this practice of trail blaze removal to be vandalism. And most trail maintenance organizations in the White Mountains region don’t use this practice of blaze removal because it goes against leave no trace principles. And yet it happens along the Mt Tecumseh Trail, and there is no accountability for these poor trail stewardship practices.

How do you feel about this practice of trail blaze removal? For full impact of this issue, I encourage you to watch the full screen visual presentation here.

Happy image making..


 

This blog article is based on Forest Service’s protocol for properly removing trail blazing from trees. And the fact that this practice of blaze removal goes against leave no trace principles.

To license any of the above images for usage in publications, click on the image.

This page is periodically updated with new images & information
Part of The: Tecumseh Project

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Erin Paul is a professional photographer who specializes mainly in the environment of New Hampshire. His work is published worldwide, and publication credits include the Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Backpacker Magazine, and The Wilderness Society. His blog articles are intended to create awareness for the environment and to promote his image archive.

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