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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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FEBRUARY 5, 2006
"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign,
Breaking out the scenery, breaking my mind.
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?"
- chorus from "Signs" by the Five Man Band, circa 1970

Common type of sign limiting the A.T. to foot travel and prohibiting horses, pack animals, bicycles, and other vehicles.

As soon as I started categorizing all of our AT photos and identified the ones with signs in them, this song came to mind. The refrain has been dancing in my brain for weeks now . . .

It's a stretch to say that there are warning signs "everywhere" on the AT, but I took photos of at least thirty advisory/ warning signs during my journey and I know there were many more I didn't take because they were repetitious of ones I already had. I probably averaged one or two advisory-type signs each day.

Signs give warnings about a myriad of different trail hazards. They advise hikers of dangerous exposed rocks and ridges, washed-out bridges, strong river currents, flooded sections of trail, pesky bears and other critters, and the prevalence of Lyme disease. They politely request hikers to stay on the trail to avoid damaging fragile alpine zones and endangered plant and animal species. And they identify alternate (blue-blazed) bad-weather or high-water detours, private property, and other boundaries

All of these warnings and advisories are serious and should be heeded, but some are actually a little humorous, as you'll see.


The Appalachian Trail probably contains the greatest biodiversity of plants and animals of any of the units of the National Park Service.

It is extremely important that hikers practice "Leave No Trace" principles to help protect the environment. This was easier for me, since I didn't stay on the Trail at night, than for backpackers, who by necessity have a greater impact (pitching tents, building fires, washing themselves and their eating utensils, gathering water, pooping in the woods, etc.).

The type of sign at the top of this page is very common along the AT, advising folks that the Trail is for foot travel only.

Horses are permitted in only a few places on the Trail (part of the Smokies and on the Virginia Creeper Trail for certain, and perhaps the C&O Towpath in Maryland), although I saw them a couple times in Virginia where they weren't supposed to be. I think bicycles are permitted only on the Creeper Trail and C&O Towpath. This helps protect the AT from damage and makes it more of a wilderness experience for hikers.

One of the first signs I saw in the South regarding the environment was this sign on Day 27 in Tennessee on top of Round Bald:

There weren't very many flowers up there (5,826 feet) or I would have photographic evidence. Either it was too early in May for blooms or somebody had already picked them!

Another common type of environmental-damage sign is found in the alpine zones in northern New England, such as these two educational signs on Mt. Moosilauke in New Hampshire (Day 116):

The  white sign on top explains the fragility of the environment and ends with a plea to "Help preserve the delicate balance of the alpine zone. It's a tough place to grow."

Very effective, I think.

The sign below at the Fourth Mountain Bog in Maine (Day 143) advises hikers of the rare and endangered species of plants (such as carnivorous pitcher plants) and asks them to stay on the bog bridges:

I also saw several endangered species signs for animals on my journey from Georgia to Maine.

One of the first was between Hot Springs and Sams Gap in North Carolina on Day 22, notifying hikers that entry into the area beyond the sign could cause failure in the Peregrin falcon nesting area. The undated sign was posted by the USFS and NC Resources Wildlife Commission.

Even though the sign above was enclosed in plastic, water had damaged the paper and it was just lying on the ground. I don't know if that was really the protected area or not.

Most similar signs were more durable than this and still tacked into place, such as a metal "falcon breeding area" sign on a mountain summit in New Hampshire on Day 114. That area was even protected with a chain-link fence!



Yes, ticks. Last year (2005) was a bad one for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases along the Trail, particularly from New Jersey north.

 There were numerous signs in those states, like the one below in New York, advising hikers on how to avoid ticks. Connecticut used to be ground zero for tick-borne diseases but the critters have spread widely by now. I heard of about two dozen hikers who had Lyme diagnoses, and I didn't talk to all that many hikers or doctors about the problem.

Although rattlesnakes are problematic, especially in Pennsylvania, I never saw any signs about them except a hand-written note under a rock in the middle of the Trail where a hiker had spotted one. The guide books all warn about rattlesnakes and other wild animals that can cause serious problems if they bite.

I did see several signs regarding bear activity. Some shelters in areas where bears are common, such as in the Smokies, Shenandoahs, and New Jersey, have chain-link fences protecting the open side and cables strung between trees to hold food well above the ground.

I was excited to see a yearling cub right on the Trail in front of me in New Jersey on Day 90.

Shortly after my sighting, I came to the Maschipacong shelter, which was wrapped in crime scene tape! These signs indicated the shelter was closed due to recent bear activity and a trap was set.

There were also prominent notices of recent black bear activity at sites between Salisbury and Jug End in Connecticut on Day 100. The shelters weren't closed but hikers were advised to hang their food and not leave packs unattended.


There are quite a few park boundary and private property signs along the AT. Some are big and bold NO TRESPASSING! signs, while others are more subtle.

In some places the AT is very close to private property. In a few others, the AT actually passes through private property the National Park Service leases from the owners. Hikers who go off-trail here risk the ire of the  property owners and jeopardize the future of the Trail - not a wise thing to do.

The next sign is located in southern Virginia between Groseclose and Ceres at the beginning of a mile-plus of private property where the NPS is leasing a narrow strip of land through beautiful farmland (Day 34):


These three "warning" signs are just plain comical.

This hand-written "speed limit" sign is along the Trail on the first peak north of Hot Springs, North Carolina (Day 22):

As if!! 

(If you don't understand the humor, remember that the trail is for foot travel only. Not even David Horton or Andrew Thompson sped through there that fast, let alone someone with a back-pack doing 2 or 2 MPH.)

The second humorous sign is in northern Virginia and announces the beginning of the infamous Roller Coaster, a rocky section of unforgiving PUDS ("pointless ups and downs," in hiker-speak). This section about drove me crazy on Days 58 and 59, but pales in comparison to much more diabolical trails farther north.

The text on the sign is hard to read on the screen. This is what is says: "HIKER NOTICE: WARNING!!  You are about to enter The Roller Coaster! Built and maintained by the 'Trailboss" and his merry crew of volunteers. Have a great ride and we will see you at the Blackburn Trail Center (if you survive)."

One of my very favorite Trail signs is this one inside the privy near the Little Swift River campsite in Maine on Day 132:

I like it when serious points are made with humor. There was wire mesh surrounding the base of the wooden privy, indicating the porcupines really have been causing damage to the structure.


Several danger signs in the South warned of hurricane damage from 2004 storms, such as this washed-out section of trail in North Carolina on Day 10. Following the bright pink ribbons on the rough quarter-mile relocation reminded me of running an ultra-distance trail race.

I had already been through a damaged area two days previously near Standing Indian where trees had been uprooted from the winds and heavy rains (North Carolina, Day 8), but the damage didn't necessitate a relo there.

Many bridges sustained heavy damage during those 2004 storms, and one that was washed out at Stony Creek in Virginia hadn't been replaced when I was there on Day 39. The sign below was posted two miles downstream, giving hikers the opportunity to use an alternate route along a road instead of fording the wide creek.

The creek looked OK at the sign and someone wrote at the bottom of the sign to "Just ford it!" because the crossing wasn't bad. I figured the creek would be smaller two miles upstream and took the white-blazed trail.

See the story on Day 39 and a photo of the creek and washed-out bridge in Photos 9 (second photo from top).

The unusual hand-written "bridge out" sign below was over a deep chasm in Massachusetts, not a stream. I suppose someone could leap across it, but I didn't take the chance. The detour was very short around the side. (Day 102)


Hikers always run the risk of getting soaked in boggy areas from New Jersey north to Maine whether it has been raining recently or not. The swamps and bogs flood easily and the bridging isn't always in the best shape.

Such was the case on Day 97 when I traipsed through the Great Swamp in New York, getting wet where the bog boards were broken. At the far end of the section I saw this warning:

The first river warning I saw was about dangerous currents at Laurel Falls in Tennessee. Just downstream from the falls the white-blazed Trail follows a narrow rocky ledge right next to the river. There is a blue-blazed high-water trail considerably higher on the cliff.

Although I would encounter more dangerous water in New England, I was still pretty cautious on those rocks on Day 28 when I saw this warning at the trail head:

I saw a few other high-water routes along the Trail, but they aren't as common as bad-weather routes to avoid exposed rocks and ridges.

The most important river warning is at the Kennebec near Caratunk, Maine. Because of at least one hiker's death and numerous near-death experiences from folks who are fording the unpredictable river, the ATC has been paying a local outfitter to ferry hikers across the river in a canoe twice a day since about 1980.

Some testosterone-crazed hikers still insist it's the manly thing to do to ford the Kennebec anyway.

Fine. It's a free country and it's your life! But I sure had fun taking the canoe ride and I've already posted several photos here about the experience (e.g., Day 137 and Photos 11).


There are many dangerous ridges along the AT, and they begin as far south as the Smokies.

I thought this warning at Charlie's Bunion on Day 16 was actually kind of funny in a Well, duh! sort of way. "Closely control children??!!"

The very narrow ridges in this section have some huge drop-offs that are hazardous to adults and I'd question having young kids anywhere near them.

Most of the ridge warnings are in the White Mountains in New Hampshire where tree line is very low on some peaks (about 3,500 feet, as I recall).

Just like in the Rockies and other much higher mountain chains, sudden weather changes are a given, even in the summer. I knew the warnings and still got caught on Mt. Madison in high winds, fog, and sleet. The details of that harrowing experience are in the journal on Day 121.

When I safely descended an alternate route to a valley to escape the icy boulders on the summit, I saw these two graphic signs (not that it would have made any difference if I'd seen them that morning!):

Sometimes there are alternate, blue-blazed routes to use to avoid dangerous exposed rocks and ridges during bad weather. This includes fog as well as rain or snow and ice. It is easy to get lost or injured in such places, and evacuations are very difficult or impossible.

I think the photo below near Blackstack Cliffs in North Carolina on Day 22 was the first bad-weather route I saw on my journey: The two trails re-connect about a half mile further north.

You may not be able to read the sign on your screen. There is a white blaze on the right and the sign indicates there are exposed rocks that direction. The blue blazes to the left indicate the safer bad-weather trail that remains in the forest:

The rocks on the white-blazed section were tricky to negotiate even on a a dry day because I wasn't as used to bouldering as I was by the time I got to New England. They'd certainly be hazardous if wet or icy.

I suppose I behaved like one of those testosterone-crazed fellas I bad-mouthed earlier because I took bad-weather/high-water routes only twice on my entire thru-run/hike - coming down from Mt. Madison on Day 121 and escaping the flooded Big Wilson River on Day 141.

I returned to Madison on Day 125 and completed the whole white-blazed route. I am missing a mile on the north side of the Big Wilson River, but went several times that distance on the high-water route so I feel no compulsion to return to do the white-blazed route in that location, although I would like to see both the Big and Little Wilson rivers at normal levels some day.

I hope you had fun remembering some of the signs and places they represented if you have hiked the Trail yourself or followed along in my journal. And I hope they are an incentive for the rest of you to get out on the Trail somewhere!

Next up: Gimme shelter - campsites, shelters, huts, and privies along the AT.

Signing off (for a day or two),

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil