ESTABLISHMENT OF A NATURE TRAIL
By Dorr G. Yeager
Principle of Labeling:
The label by the trailside transforms an ordinary mountain trail into so-called nature trail, the features of which can be interpreted by the tourist. It is, therefore, of vital importance that the labels should perform their function well. In the first place, the label on the nature trail, as in a museum, interprets and tells a story about an exhibit. Certain principles must be carried out if the trail is to be a success. First of all the exhibits should be picked about which a label can tell a story. This is a simple task as there is very little on a nature trail that does not have a story. The labels should be so worded as to create interest and lead the visitor on. In many cases it is a good example to ask a question in one label and answer it in the next. This tends to lead the visitor farther and farther along the trail. The labels should be long enough to convey the story, but short enough not to tire the visitor. Nothing dismays a visitor more than to be confronted with a mass of long labels or signs. The letters should be large enough to be easily read at a short distance. Caution should be used in the number of signs placed on the trail. They should cover the material thoroughly but it should be kept in mind that the visitor is interested in nature, not signs. The trail should not, therefore, be "plastered" with signs.
What Shall be Labeled?
This is a very important point as it is tempting to label everything on the trail and so make a lane in the woods bordered by signs. The pertinent things should be labeled. Each species of tree, for example, should be labeled but it is not necessary to place the name on each Douglas Fir on the trail. It is advisable, however, to repeat in some way the name of the tree two or three times. This may be done by bringing in the name or asking the question "What tree is this? You have seen others like it on the trail." Naturally important pieces of nature lore should receive attention such as squirrel middens, woodpecker holes, bear beds, claw marks on trees, etc. The most important flowers on the trail should be labeled. It is, however, impossible to keep each flower labeled through the summer unless one man is available for frequent work on the trail. It is important that these flower labels receive the strictest attention as the visitor will lose faith if a label for gentians is present and the gentians have disappeared. It is not necessary to confine attentions to objects directly on the trail. A system which has worked well in Yellowstone is that of running strings out to objects off the trail which might be missed by the casual passer-by. Many interesting features are to be found 50 feet from the trail such as nests and these may well be included in the trail itself. Different geological formations can be labeled to good advantage and lend well to treatment. It is not so easy to label birds and animals although this too may be done to a certain extent. For example, if marmots or woodrats are usually seen at a certain point in the trail it is well to construct a sign to that effect. The matter of what should receive attention on the trail is largely one that is up to the park naturalist himself. Sufficient material should receive attention that the visitor, upon completing the trip, has received a well-rounded variety of subjects which have included those things of prime importance on and near his route.
How Should it be Labeled?:
Many types of labels are in use at the present time. Small metal strips with the text stamped upon them are good, although as a rule they are too small to catch the eye and unless they are painted they will be passed unnoticed. Linen tags with the text typewritten upon them are in use to good advantage. These are usually attached to pieces of wire or merely to sticks along the trail. They are white and fluttering in the breeze are very conspicuous. They are affected by weather, however, and are not as substantial as might be wished. On our nature trails in Yellowstone we are using pieces of lodgepole sawed at an angle. I have experimented with several different woods and find Douglas Fir even better than lodgepole for the purpose. The bark is tacked on to prevent pealing and a small piece of specially made wood cut to fit into a pipe is screwed on the back. The text is then printed on the slab and it is inserted in pieces of pipe set at intervals along the trail. This system has several advantages over the other systems mentioned. First, it is permanent; second it is large enough to attract attention; and third, it blends pleasingly with the surroundings. Each spring we go over the entire trail and give the signs a coat of varnish. This protects them from the rain and eliminates the necessity of taking them in each fall and replacing them again in the spring. There are several other systems in use such as pieces of pasteboard covered with a celoiden preparation, labels under glass, etc., but they all have the disadvantage of being affected by the weather. On our trails over the formations we have used for some time "text" signs giving information relative to the pool, geyser or spring. Those are about 10 x 14 inches, mounted on pipe. They are painted white and a green text is printed upon them. The action of the steam destroys this type of sign, however, and it is necessary to re-do them at least once every three years. We are attempting this winter to obtain metal enamel signs of the same size upon which the text will appear in raised letters. These are more expensive, but they will last indefinitely and I believe that they will be cheaper in the end.
In the discussion following Mr. Yeager's paper, the following suggestions were brought out. These are here recorded since they may have some bearing on the labeling of nature trails and self-guiding trails in the parks.
Occasionally where a nature trail or self-guiding trail does not follow a well defined route (as on the geyser formations) it is advantageous to put arrows on signs indicating the route to be followed. The use of numbers on labels is not satisfactory, as the changing of labels and introducing of new signs may interrupt the numbered sequence.
It is occasionally desirable to have nature trail signs fairly conspicuous, but quite frequently in the national parks they may so intrude on the beauty of the landscape as to be quite objectionable. It was therefore decided that the cooperation of the Landscape Division would be requested to determine upon a means of labeling that is satisfactory from the landscape point of view while at the same tine accomplishing educational objectives.
There are two types of labels used on nature trails; those which are permanent and those which must frequently be changed. Perhaps the changeable labels can be permanently constructed and so mounted that they can be removed and changed from place to place following the season; or they may be transferred to another part of the trail with out the necessity of changing the route.
It was pointed out that variety in sizes and shapes of nature trail signs often lends attractiveness. It was felt by many that adopting a single size and type of label might tend to greatly lessen the interest on the visitor. It was agreed this would be an interesting field for experimentation.