Trail Blazing, Trail Stewardship

A properly applied trail blaze along the Artist's Bluff Path in  White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Proper Trail Blaze – Artist's Bluff Path, New Hampshire

Trail Blazing, Trail Stewardship – Painted trail blazing (paint marks on trees that mark the path of a trail) along the White Mountains trail system is an endless complaint among outdoor enthusiasts. Either the trail is excessively blazed or not blazed enough. I don’t mind the trails that have little trail blazing, but I'm not a fan of the excessive trail blazing.

Proper trail blazing protocol seems to vary among the trail maintenance organizations, but the ending result is the same. Most of these organizations agree that a standard trail blaze is a two inch by six inch rectangle placed about head height on trees. No painting of arrows, only a single vertical blaze, should be painted on a tree. For more information on blazing see the Randolph Mountain Club’s trail blazing protocol page.

Yellow trail blaze along a trail at the Warren Town Forest in Warren, New Hampshire during the summer months. The double blaze indicates a change in direction of the trail.
Two Blaze Combination – Warren Town Forest, New Hampshire

There are exceptions to the single blaze rule, such as using a two blaze combination (above) to indicate the trail changes direction. Explaining the different meanings of trail blazes would require a blog article dedicated to this subject. So if you are interested in learning more about the meanings of trail blazes, click here.

Trail Blaze along the Frankenstein Cliff Trail in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Frankenstein Cliff Trail – Hart's Location, New Hampshire

Trail blazing plays an important role in trail maintenance, but when it gets to the point where it is aesthetically ugly, it is no longer acceptable stewardship practices. The point of view of those outdoor enthusiasts who feel trail blazes painted on trees takes away from the outdoor experience has merit.

September 2011 - Trail blaze along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in the New Hampshire White Mountains. A proper blaze is a two by six inch rectangle. Spills and runs should be wiped away when applied, and once dried, runs can be removed using proper techniques. After a trail inspection by Forest Service in June 2012, the dripping blaze was removed by proper parties.
Mt Tecumseh Trail – Waterville Valley, New Hampshire

Here is the problem, volunteers paint most of the painted trail blazes along the White Mountains trail system. And most of the volunteers working the trail system have good intentions. So when outdoor enthusiasts complain about excessive trail blazing along a trail, its possible a volunteer did it.

September 2011 - Trail blaze along the Mt Tecumseh Trail, at a brook crossing, in the New Hampshire White Mountains. Proper technique is two paint marks (on right) to indicate the trail turns right. After a trail inspection by Forest Service in June 2012, the non-conforming blazing was removed by proper parties.
Mt Tecumseh Trail – Waterville Valley, New Hampshire

However, for the most part, trail maintenance organizations in New Hampshire do train volunteers on basic trail blazing protocol. And this raises the question of accountability. It’s a waste of time and resources if volunteers ignore the training they are given. So should volunteers be held accountable when they don't follow proper trail maintenance protocol?

Blue blaze painted on trees along Maggie's Run Trail in Crawford Notch State Park of New Hampshire.
Maggie's Run Trail – Hart's Location, New Hampshire

Without volunteers, the White Mountains trail system would be in turmoil. And the ones who do donate two or three days a year to better the trail system deserve praise. But with that being said, trail blazing is an art form, and not everyone should be playing with paint in nature. Would having a trail crew dedicated to doing just trail blazing create a more uniform and acceptable blazing system throughout the White Mountains?

To license any of the above images for usage in publications, click on the image. And you can view more trail blaze photos here.

Happy image making..


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