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Trail markers becoming a reality

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County > Feedback from public meeting will be incorporated into signage plan

By Arin McKenna

Trail users tired of getting lost on Los Alamos County’s meshwork of trails will get some relief as early as this summer. That is when Open Space Specialist Craig Martin plans to install trail signage pilot projects on the central trail network running from the aquatic center to the golf course and in White Rock Canyon.
“The lack of signs has kept me from trying out different trails because I am unable to know if I am on the right trail or have wandered off the path,” commented a typical respondent to last year’s Los Alamos County Open Forum on the trail network.
Similar comments were heard at a public meeting on trail signage conducted last Wednesday.
“I just want signs on Pueblo so I don’t get lost,” Becky Scarborough said. “Whatever Craig does will be better than what we’ve got now.”
Others were concerned that the signage might be short-lived.
“People will go around a trail and tear things out, because they think the trails are theirs,” Mike Wheeler said.
A minority of the comments Martin has received reflect that animosity toward the signage.
“In the end of the day, people who would rather be on a sidewalk than a trail should consider staying on the many sidewalks we already have, and leave what is left of “wilderness” for people who prefer that,” wrote one respondent.
Although another person expressed the opinion that those wanting signage are probably in the minority, Martin said that the feedback he’s received so far contradicts that.
“Theme number one is that there is no question we need better wayfinding aides on the trails,” Martin said.
Martin hopes to counteract any desires to destroy the markers by utilizing materials such as wood that are sturdy enough to withstand abuse but blend with the environment, and by careful placement of the markers.
“My compromise here is, places where they get heavy use, like the central area behind the aquatic center, need more signs for folks to navigate properly, because it’s a spaghetti network,” Martin said. “But in other places, like Deer Trap Mesa, there are only a couple of trails, it’s harder to get lost and we kind of consider it a natural area. And there we use a minimalist approach.
“So I’m hoping that by carefully selecting not only the material for the signs, and how colorful or how striking it is on that signpost, but by adjusting the number of signs also it will help diffuse some of the issues that other folks have.”
A hands-on station at Wednesday’s meeting encouraged residents to “design a trail marker location plan.” Many who attended marked trail maps with their suggestions. Martin will look for patterns in those maps as well as individual suggestions as he designs a plan for sign placement.
Another hands-on station let residents “design your ideal trail marker.”
“The hands on worked better than I expected. It stimulated discussion between the participants —way more than I was expecting,” Martin said, describing typical interactions. “They were going back and forth. Someone would say, ‘I like all this information,’ and saying that like, ‘Everybody will agree with me.’ And then having somebody else say, ‘I just want a small sign with little things. I can’t handle all that confusing information.’”
Martin noted that the “ideal signs” people created reflected the give and take.
“You could see that everybody had compromised a little bit, because they were hearing the other points of view.”
Martin was also surprised to see almost universal acceptance of a point-to-point navigation system, which labels signposts with a number corresponding to a number on a map.
“All the modern trail systems that are developed from scratch, that’s the system that they use for navigation,” Martin said. Martin plans to combine the point-to-point system with trail names and information such as distances, depending on the location.
“The other universal theme was that not every trail sign has to look exactly like all the others. The scheme needs to be uniform, but not the information on each trail sign,” Martin said.
Some signs may have minimal information, just “confidence markers” to let people know they are still on the right trail. Trailheads could include more extensive information, including QR (Quick Response) codes that would provide cell phone users with more detailed information about the trail.
Once Martin has more accurate cost estimates and designs the pilot project, he plans to give residents another chance to comment before implementing the plan.
Sufficient funding is available to implement the pilot projects this summer. Martin will use feedback from the pilot projects to make adjustments to designs for other trails.
The trail signage plan is available for viewing at losalamosnm.us/parks/trails/Pages/TrailNetworkSignagePlan.aspx. Martin will be accepting comments through March 14 at craig.martin@lacnm.us. 

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