Sunday, March 25, 2012

How about those trail signs (plus a little history)?

Ever wonder how all those trail signs get made?  Well, pretty much by hand.  Not to say we have a olde-tyme carver sitting in a workshop somewhere hand carving every letter--we use a router--but most of our signs are routed "free hand" that is to say without a guiding template.

We now have two generations of signs on the AT in Mass.  The first generation was made by volunteers in the early days of the current management partnership between the AMC, Mass DCR (it was DEM, then) and the NPS (National Park Service).  The Park Service was in the process of purchasing land to carry the trail in between all the great state parks we are blessed with here in the Berkshires.  From Jug End and East Mountain, to Greylock and Clarksburg, these are 'jewels on the AT necklace'.  

In the late 80's, the AT was pretty much on roads between these parks, as the private property it had originally traveled on was sold or developed.  Massachusetts was not alone in this problem, other Trail states were facing the same issues.

In response, Congress authorized the Park Service to partner with states to acquire land to protect the trail.  Massachusetts was in the forefront of this movement, expanding the boundaries of several state forests (notably October Mountain).  In addition, the Park Service purchase tracts as well, particularly in Sheffield, Tyringham, Dalton and Cheshire to provide a home for the AT that would be forever protected.

More on the AT Corridor later--back to the sign thing.  Once the land was purchased, a regular and comprehensive means to guide hikers was needed.  So a standard sign design was developed (white routed letters on a brown background).  In very short order, volunteers with the then new Mass AT Committee had made and mounted around 30 new signs on the AT.

As the years have passed, some of these have begun to show the effects of 30 years hanging out in the woods and are now being replaced with new signs (same design) as needed.

A new sign starts out as a blank piece of 1x10 pine about 24" long.  Text is formatted and printed onto paper which is in turn taped to the blank.  Using a router, the sign maker routs the pine board through the paper template.  Then the sign is stained brown and two coats of white paint are applied into the routed letters (the really time consuming part).  Then the sign is matched with a backing board of 2x10 pressure treated lumber.  The backing board is attached to a tree or post, and the sign bolted to the backing.

This season, we are replacing the signs at the entrance to Upper Goose Pond.  These are quite large (about 6ft wide) as they are intended for boaters entering Upper Goose Pond from Lower Goose Pond.

Because of the size of the letters, we enlisted the assistance of a local Williamstown contractor who agreed to donate the use of his computer controlled router (Thanks, John Hammond!).  Once set up, it can cut in the letters on each board in about 2 minutes.  However it can't paint them automatically, so we'll be filling in all of those letters by hand before mounting the new signs on a project day in early May.

For the tool geeks reading, here's a video of the router cutting the letters in the first of the six signs:
video

If you'd like to join us in installing these signs, check out our schedule at:
http://tinyurl.com/7e4a8cj

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