Trail Blazing Procedure
Since 2014 I have blazed over 125 miles of trail in 3 different states. In
the summer of 2020 I was asked to write a procedure for trail blazing by the
Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition.
This is a reprint of that procedure.
A great multipurpose trail should be properly thought out, designed and built.
However, if that trail is not properly blazed, signed, have a trailhead kiosk
and have an up to date map that ties these items together, it is not a great
multipurpose trail. This paper will concentrate on proper blazing techniques
and how to make that aspect of a multipurpose trail great.
Before you even begin to blaze a trail, make sure that you have permission
from the agency, organization or other entity that owns that trail. If you
have permission, the next thing to do is gather the supplies that you will
need. Here is a list of items that you will need:
It is recommended that you blaze one direction on a trail, then return
blazing the other direction. Try and place your blazes on the right hand
side of the trail. In some cases the only tree available may be on the left
side but try and utilize the right side. Do not place blazes on opposite
sides of a tree. If the tree falls down, you lose two blazes. If your
blazes are on different trees, you only lose one blaze. If you are
re-blazing a trail you may run into the fact that the old blazes have puffed
out as the tree the blaze is on has grown. If you place a template over the
old blaze and paint it, the old blaze will show and the entire blaze will not
look good. I have found the best way to overcome this is to either use your
brown, gray or black paint can paint or spray paint to cover the old blaze,
then either paint a nice 2 x 6 inch blaze with a template above or below the
covered up. Or just cover the puffed out blaze and paint a new blaze on a
different tree. You can also place the new blaze over the old one and then
cover up the puffed out part with brown, black or gray paint from your paint
can. This method takes the longest but it is an alternative.
Paint- It is preferable to use quart sized cans of oil based paint because the
blazes will last longer.
Paint Brushes- Since your blazes will be 2 x 6 it is best to get some 1 inch
and 2 inch brushes.
Template- This is something that you will have to make. It can be either a
sheet of flexible plastic, a section of an old plastic milk bottle, old film,
A small bucket to keep your brushes and paint in while walking the trail to be
Rags or paper towels to wipe off excess paint from the tree that you are
blazing, your template or to clean up any spills.
Quart sized containers of oil based brown, gray and black paint as well as
spray cans of these colors to cover up old blazes or correct mistakes.
A scrapper to prepare the surface on a tree that you are going to blaze.
Rubber Gloves to keep your hands clean.
A small screwdriver to open the paint cans.
Multiple paint stirrers.
Multiple quart and gallon sized plastic freezer bags to place wet and/or used
paint brushes into during and after your blazing excursion.
A small saw and a pair of loppers so that you can clear areas where blazes are
placed for others to see.
A day pack is needed to hold all of this stuff. An optional satchel with a
strap that goes over your shoulder is nice for holding things that you will
need to use often so that you don.t have to take off your backpack and get
into it unless absolutely necessary.
You will need to cut out a 2 x 6 opening within your template before you start
blazing. Make sure that your template is flexible and can fit around a tree.
Make sure that the weather will be sunny, no rain and the temperature should
be above freezing for 24 hours before and 24 hours after you blaze. If your
blazes get wet or freeze, they will either be runny or flake off the tree.
You will then have to redo your blazes.
Some trail maintenance organizations mandate that two people do the blazing,
that they must use a template and that they must use a can of paint and a
brush to paint blazes. I have been involved with other trail organizations
that, due to lack of personnel and/or having very long distances of trails to
blaze, have condoned single blazers, no templates and even using spray paint
for blazing. It is my opinion that spray painting blotches onto trees as
blazes do not look very good. So, if you can do so, please use two people, a
template and a can of paint and brushes to paint your blazes. Having two
people blazing will cut down the chances of any mistakes.
One of the most difficult aspects of trail blazing is to judge how often to
blaze. If you have too many blazes, the trail looks tacky. If you don't
blaze enough, people get lost. The key to good blazing is to stand next to
the tree that you just blazed, look down the trail to the farthest point, then
go to the tree just past that point and blaze.
As for what color of blaze to use that is usually decided by the organization
that oversees that trail. Most long distance trails in the United States are
blazed white. The 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail is an example. Some long
distance trails near white blazed trails are blazed orange. An example is the
300 mile Mid State Trail in Pennsylvania. Side trails and shorter trails
are usually blazed blue. Trails used by horses are generally blazed yellow.
If an area has lots of trails other colors are used to blaze. You should try
not to duplicate colors of trails in a given area. An example of an area
that utilizes different colored trail blazes is Prince William Forest Park
in Triangle, VA.
As for the type of blaze to use on a trail the most common type is the single
2 x 6 blaze on a tree. It will guide hikers on their hikes. If there is a
turn up ahead two blazes are required. One blaze is two inches above the
other, then 2 inches to either the left or right. If there is an obstacle
ahead such as a low clearance, a cliff or difficult section of trail, two
blazes are placed on a tree, one is two inches above the other. Turn blazes
and caution blazes are always the same color. In some areas three blazes are
placed on a tree to indicate the beginning or the end of a trail. This is not
used very often but can be helpful to trail users in certain situations. The
old school way to blaze the beginning or the end of a trail is to paint three
blazes on a tree, each two inches above the other. Lately I have seen more
instances of three blazes in the shape of a triangle to indicate the
beginning or the end of a trail. All blazes are two inches apart. One blaze
over two signifies the beginning of a trail. Two blazes over one (signifying
a V for victory) signify the end of a trail. Again, I have only seen old
school end/beginning blazes on The Mason-Dixon Trail in PA/MD/DE. As for the
new style beginning/end blazes I have seen them on the White Trail within
Doves Landing Park near Manassas, VA. So you may not have to utilize these
types of blazes.
When it comes to 2 different trails sharing the same path for a period of
time it does happen. The trails will hopefully have different color blazes.
If so, place the dominant or longer distance trail blaze two inches above the
shorter distance or local trail blaze.
When you begin blazing you should plan on only blazing for 2 or 3 hours at a
time. The main reason is that it is a tiring process and you will be more
prone to making mistakes if you try to blaze for long periods of time. Trust
me on this. When utilizing 2 people (I hope that you do) one person should
hold the template at eye level on a given tree and the other person should
paint the blaze. Some people use a one inch brush, paint the edges of the
template, then fill in the rest of the blaze after the template has been
removed. Some people use a two inch brush and just swipe down the template.
The first way is neater, the second way is faster. Be sure to wipe off your
template after each blaze is painted as it gets very messy later on if you
don't. And the blazes don't look as good. Switch off every now and then as
to who holds the template and who blazes. It will be neater that way. Be
sure to wear old clothes that you do not mind getting paint on. Because you
will get paint on your clothes.
If the trail that you are blazing has too many blazes on it, feel free to
block out the too many blazes with your brown, gray or black paint. Try to
match the paint to the color of the tree. While blazing, think of yourself
as a hiker on this trail and how you would want to see the blazes placed. The
key is to make the trail look professionally blazed so that it helps guide
the hiker and does not get them lost, yet does not look like a highway with
too many billboards. After you get done blazing, the trail should look
better than it did before.
As far as how often should one blaze a trail I have found that blazes generally
start to fade after 3 or 4 years. Some trail maintenance organizations try to
blaze their trails every five years. Some blaze only after they have gotten
complaints. The former statement is preferable to the latter.
If you have an accident and spill paint please clean it up. In some parks
this is considered a hazmat situation and you have to notify the park. In
any event, take care of any accidents that may occur. If you make a mistake
blazing the best thing to do is to wait until the paint dries, then come
back and correct the mistake with your brown/gray/black paint, then blaze again.
Once you finish blazing you should make sure that your paint cans are closed
tightly, that your used brushes and stirrers are either cleaned or disposed
properly and that all supplies are stored properly after use. Make sure to
clean yourself up as well. Once done, you can relax and know that you have
helped improve the quality of the trail that you have just blazed.
spookybeavers.net on 01/22/2022.
Prince William County, VA Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism,
Prince William County Trail Standards,
Retrieved from pwcgov.org on 11/14/2020.
Proudman, Robert and Birchard, William,
Appalachian Trail Design, Construction and Maintenance, 2nd Edition,
Published January 1, 2000, Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA.
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