Answers to some blazing questions
Trail Assessment Form Download (Word Doc)
1. We know of trails that are blazed red, for multi-use, but are really quite unsuitable for horses or mountain bikes, sometimes because they have steep sections or other times because they have narrow sidehill treadway that makes them impractical, if not unsafe, for horses or bikes. The red-blazing seems to be particularly harmful for equestrians or trail-bikers, because if they see (perhaps on a map) that a trail is red-blazed, they may go there expecting to be able to ride, or create a nice loop, and then they find that the trail is unsuitable, so their plan for the day falls apart. Other times, it leads to horse-damage on trails that are primarily suitable for hikers only. Shared-Use trails marked that are marked in red is indicates uses that are permitted and is not necessarily intended to promote any specific use, other than for “Non-Motorized” use. However, your concern is not without merit. Recognizing it could be beneficial to the our user groups, the Bureau is working to improve our maps to provide better information on equestrian and biking opportunities, which many of these opportunities can/do occur on shared-use trails. By doing so, we feel we can help identify where certain activities may be better suited than others. With that said, unless there are significant reasons to prohibit a certain activity on a shared-use trail that would justify deciding to make a local closure to a specific use, the trails themselves will be considered open for that type of use.
Question #1-A: Is there truth to the rumor that forest districts are required to have a certain percentage of multi-use trails, so they sometimes blaze red to get their quota, even though multi-use is inappropriate? There are no quotas to the amount of Shared-Use trails a district has to maintain.
Question #1-B: Is there a "default color," such that all trails are red unless there's a reason to make them yellow (hiker-only), or conversely, that all trails should be yellow unless there is a reason to make them red? For the Bureau of Forestry all non-motorized trails are by default open to all non-motorized user groups unless posted closed. Since there are more trail miles that are Shared-Use verses Hiking only, the appearance of red blazes is likely to be more prevalent than yellow, thus giving it the appearance as being a “default” color. Though red is not considered to be a default color it is used most frequently because it allows for greater variety of uses on the trails verses using yellow, which is far more restrictive. Are recreation foresters encouraged to assess the appropriateness of treadway width, elevation changes (steep ascents and descents) and the nature of the treadway (sidehill, rockiness, mud-muck-wet sections) to determine suggested use (blaze color) -- or do they go with a default color, or can this vary from district to district? Recreation foresters are encouraged to use our trail assessment form (see attached) when evaluating their trails. The trail assessment form is primarily used for them to help identify trail maintenance needs and is intended to be a tool to help them prioritize which trails they should focus on first. The form does have them look at the trail width and condition of the trail surface, but does not specifically ask to evaluate the grade changes. These assessment factors are not used exclusively to determine the proper color to use, but they are/or can be more beneficial to determining the trail’s difficulty rating, which is evaluated as well. If a district has identified large portion of trail segments that are not appropriate for a specific use the districts do have the ability to prohibit certain usages if there is a need to. These decisions are made at the local level, thus there may be some districts more proactive than others.
2. Many hiking trails, both loops and linears, are comprised of linked trail sections, of which some sections may be appropriate for multi-use while other segments are appropriate for hikers only. Also, sometimes trails converge and run together for a distance -- perhaps one a red-blazed trail and another a yellow-blazed trail -- and then they diverge again. Many trail sections we know of are blazed with two colors -- both red and yellow, for example -- or even three colors -- red, yellow, blue. (Similarly, highway sections sometimes run together and then separate, and where they run together they are labeled with both route numbers -- or even three route numbers sometimes.)
Question #2-A: One district currently is telling us that two colors of blazes cannot be used on the same section of trail, because equestrians have been told to stay off trail with yellow blazes, so a concurrent trail section (a section of trail that is both part of a longer hiking trail and also part of a multi-use trail) can only be blazed red (for horses, bikes, and hikers) and cannot be dual-blazed in red and yellow (for the hiking trail), because yellow blazes kick the equestrians off. Short answer is “yes”, two colors can be used to blaze segments of trails that overlap. On the segments that overlap, we encourage the districts to split the single blaze in half with one color on top of the other. (in this case the top would be red and the bottom yellow – or vice-versa). By doing so, lets the users know that at least for those segments there could be other users on it. However, in the example mentioned above, horseback riders would be permit because red is also on the blaze. The districts would just have to do a good job of clearly identifying where the combined use portion(s) of the trails separates, so horseback riders can avoid riding on hiking only trails. As for the situation where three colors could be blazed (i.e. blue) this is likely a case where the trail also serves as a cross-country ski trail. In those cases, one of the three blaze colors should be a separate blaze. We endorse minimizing the use of blazes because too many blazes can mar the primitive character of the trail. (In general we recommend a blaze at approximately every five minutes of hiking or roughly every 800-1000 feet.) Is there any known DCNR/forestry official policy against blazing with both red and yellow? No, though we try to minimize this type of use to help prevent confusion. In one particular area, for example, there are two hiking trails with distances of 6-9 miles of which some of the miles are multi-use and other sections are hiker only. The trails are advertised and promoted as hiking trails, but hikers will be asked to go from red to yellow, or vice-versa, as they try to follow the trails. To help better understand this example, could you please let know which trail segment is being referred to? Is this a case where the trail goes on or comes off of a Park? Or are there other local conditions that might make this necessary? Our thinking is that equestrians should follow the red and hikers should follow the yellow, and the trails should be blazed in two colors, but the forester wants only one color of blaze in each stretch of the trail. I may be able to provide a better response if I know which trail is being referred to.
Question #2-B: Trails currently are blazed with two colors in two different ways. Some trails have 2x6 red blazes and 2x6 yellow blazes, which may be on the same tree or may be on different trees along the trail. Other trails use half-and-half blazes - a 2x6 blaze that is yellow for the top three inches and red for the bottom three inches, for example. I believe this is standard in the Moshannon, for example; at least, I know the multi-use section of the Allegheny Front Trail is blazed that way. Is there a preferred method for two colors of blazes, or is this up to the individual forest district or to whoever is blazing any given trail or trail section? As mentioned previously, the districts are encouraged to combine the two blazes into one blaze. Likewise, if they choose to do separate blazes it would be suggested to place them on the same tree.