by Natrieifia Miller

Club Round Up: Looking for a Sign?

Appalachian Mountain Club
We had the idea of this post after reading this AMC article by Zack Urgese, which ran on AMC’s website last December. It details history of Trail signs in the White Mountains and the struggles that club faces in managing signs for over 1,200 miles of non-motorized trails. Natural causes play a part in sign destruction, but a big obstacle faced in the Whites comes from humans in way of graffiti. Many users don’t recognize the history of the trail system up north which honors the history by referring to many trails by local names instead of the A.T. “We receive much consternation about how signs here in the Whites lack reference to the A.T. as compared to the trail north and south of us. We have responded to this consternation by adding a reference to the A.T. to signs as we have replaced in recent years…” The article then proceeds to relay much of that trail history.

In addition the article specifies in detail the costs, materials, time and other considerations for sign managing in the North. The most common materials are pine, oak, spruce, and fir which are left unpainted when posted in Wilderness Areas to preserve the natural feel. All AMC signs are made by hand instead of by a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machine which uses a program to engrave signs. “We average about 2 linear feet per sign with boards averaging around 8 inches wide, the equivalent to a 3 line sign. On average a 2 ft. piece of select pine board stock costs about $4.50. Sign layout, routing, trimming, sanding, priming, and painting average about 1 line per hour when accounting for all steps. A 3 line sign takes about 3 hours to make start to finish. The board plus labor costs around $40.00. Over the past three years we’ve made around 35 signs a year, which takes the majority of the winter season to complete. Just taking the averages, that’s about $1,400/year for 35 signs.”

Check out the 3 minute video for a look at how the AMC Trails Department makes signs.

Carolina Mountain Club
In 2015 the Carolina Mountain Club (CMC) applied for a N.C. License Tag grant to acquire a sign engraving machine, pictured first in photo on the left below. The learning curve for using the machine has taken some time. Tom Weaver, CMC Trail Facility Manager, says learning the machinery components, especially the program portion that reads input data and transfers it correctly into an engraving, has taken time and dedicated attention over the holidays. He has even sought help from a local group, Apple Country Woodcrafters, for operating lessons. Now that making smaller, basic signs (shelter, water, privy, etc.) is going smoothly Tom hopes to turn attention to gaining A.T. and CMC logos and applying these to signs along with making larger signs.

Tom says his main goals for the coming season are to inventory all signs along the 93 mi section of the trail that CMC manages. The club will collect this data during spring walkthrough in March. Information will be compiled into a spreadsheet that Tom has created. He is hoping to talk to other clubs who have experience in this area to determine how better to organize this kind of spreadsheet.

Tom also hopes to connect with other clubs to figure out what types of wood are best for the signs, especially in the Southern region, which varieties of wood look best, and which species are easiest to work with without breaking the bank.

Georgia Appalachian Trail Club
Marion McClean is the primary sign maker for the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC). Within the nearly 76 mi of Trail in the GATC’s territory, along with branching side trails, there are about 100 signs to be managed. Marion remarked that he manages all of these signs with the help of an excel spreadsheet. Because there are so many branching trails and roads within the range most of the signs are located at road crossings and main gaps.

To create the signs Marion uses a Miles Craft template kit, the second photo pictured below. One drawback to this kit is that it’s best used for creating signs greater than the standard 1” standard thickness for wilderness signs. Aside, from this hiccup dimensions and other sign details are kept to standard, including placement of rivets, 4×4 sign posts, position on the post, and use of unpainted cedar wood. Leaving signs unpainted helps conserve the integrity of the designated Wilderness environment where GATC’s trails mostly lay.

The most common factors for sign replacement are bear destruction (obvious in the first photo), graffiti, and stolen signs, in that order. Marion notes that when it comes to signs marked by bears he is always hesitant to replace it unless it is rendered completely useless. In his experience replacing the sign only tempts the bear to remark it, leading to a waste of time and resources.

Mountain Club of Maryland & Cumberland Valley Appalachian Trail Club

Vern Graham is a volunteer with both clubs and has been making many of each club’s signs in the last few years.

After thru-hiking the A.T. in 2005 Vern Graham got involved in helping maintain the Trail. His current section is from Center Point Knob to Little Dogwood Run, plus the White Rocks Trail (for the Mountain Club of Maryland). He maintains some of the A.T.’s boundary. Noticing the need for signs on his section Vern took the initiative to use his home wood shop and make some himself. On the heavily wooded area where he used to reside he harvested the wood for many of his signs; much of it was red oak.

When creating his signs Vern doesn’t take aid from any guides. Instead, he draws lines then free-hands the letters. Then it’s a matter of using a router to engrave and carefully painting the routed lettering for improved visibility before they are posted. For larger signs he glues boards together, using a biscuit system to make them stronger and less likely to fall apart in their exposure to the elements. Vern recalls initially testing out signs with only varnish and black letters, which looked great to start but quickly darkened and needed to be redone. Most of the signs he makes are for newly identified signage needs. Those that require placement are usually because of age: rot or being grown over by the tree they are mounted on tend to be their primary fate.

Many of the signs Vern has made have been for the Cumberland Valley Appalachian Trail Club (CVATC), The Mountain Club of Maryland (MCM), the Keystone Trails Association (KTA), a few for the A.T. Museum, and some for the ATC office in Boiling Springs. Others have requested his skills for their own signs, which he gladly does when time allows. He remarks, “I think the word got out that they were acceptable, and that I make them for free.” For more details on how Vern constructs his signs he offers, “I think you should come over sometime and I’ll let you make one!” He goes on to reassure, “[It’s] not too difficult; the painting takes the most time.”