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Friday, September 18, 2009

Color Blindness and Trail Blazes

a painted 2x6 inch trail blaze
a properly painted North Country Trail blaze

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excerpted from the Finger Lakes Trail e-group, Sept 7,8, 2009

Recently, on the Finger Lakes Trail e-group there was a discussion about trying to follow trails if one is color blind. Some of the branch trails of the FLT system are blazed in orange, and these blazes are nearly invisible to those who are red-green color blind. The problem primarily affects men, with somewhere between 5 and 7% of the population being unable to discern red and green. Other, much less common problems with color perception occur. About one-half of one percent of women are red-green color blind.

Many trails are marked with colors that contain large amounts of red or green pigment, so in the discussion that followed several people offered suggestions for how to see trail blazes when there are problems discerning colors. Three different fellows in the group admitted that they have difficulties with this, so the situation does come up.

Someone said that it is a problem for him to tell the FLT white-blazed main trail from the blue-blazed side trails. At a junction he’s never sure if he’s continuing on the main trail or headed for a campsite or water source.

Another person mentioned that in Europe sometimes blazes have stripes so that the colors can be seen. That doesn’t seem like a very good solution. It’s often hard enough to get trail maintainers who will keep a trail blazed with one color, let alone coming back when the paint is dry to add a stripe!

Another man said that he always hikes with a non-color blind friend.

Lynda Rummel, the Finger Lakes Trail Conference Director of Trail Quality offered several good ideas. First she identified two parts of the challenge: “picking out the manmade blazes from the natural blobs on the trees, and secondly, identifying the color of the blaze, once the blaze has been seen”

She offered an interesting aid for color blind hikers. She suggests getting several pieces of vinyl siding (or something similar), and cutting them into 2x6" rectangles, which is the size of an FLT, or North Country Trail, or Buckeye Trail blaze. Then paint each one with the official colors of the blazes in the areas where you hike. The local trail maintainer should be able to help you with this. When these dry, write on each one with a permanent marker what color it is.

When you are hiking you can hold these color swatches up to a blaze to see which shade is the better match.

Linda also suggested using other clues, which are good advice for anyone:
  • At junctions, ask yourself, "Which trail has more use?" The main trail is likely to be well worn, where a side trail will be narrower and less compacted.
  • If the blazes are not the precise rectangles they are supposed to be, is there some similarity between the wrong-ness of the blazes. Perhaps they tend to trail off down the tree. Noting such details can help a person tell a blaze from a blob.
  • Become familiar with GPS and use it

On the other hand, trail maintainers can help by
  • making sure that blazes have crisp corners (a rectangle is not a normal shape in the woods so it can be spotted)
  • touching up often so the blazes are fresh and bright.
  • Bbeing sure to paint over blazes on abandoned trail sections with black, gray or camo paint so that they really are gone.
  • adding reassurance markers following junctions which may be disks, emblems or whatever symbol is preferred by the trail manager.

See Guide to Painting Trail Blazes

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