‘Not all who wander are lost’ : How to Safely Install Trail Markers

Your trail markers are in! But what is the best way to safely install trail markers that will not pose risks to others? Sawmill workers or a park ranger may need to cut down the tree at some point, especially if it becomes hazardous. It’s true that rangers will use an axe to remove a ring of bark to double-check for old, rusty and hidden nails where they are going to cut the tree. And that sawmill workers have metal detectors to save saws from damage, but it’s still recommended to have safe practices in place.

We’ve put some tips and best practices together based on advice from the Ministry of Forestry and B.C. Parks on how volunteers can properly and safely install your new trail markers:

  • Use aluminum roofing nails or thin drywall nails. They are made of soft metal or are thin enough to not damage a sawblade or harm others. B.C. Parks has directed volunteers not to install markers using screws.
  • Do not use coated deck screws or stainless-steel screws – both can be drawn into the tree as the tree grows and the layer of cambium just below the bark constantly expands. Trail markers will fold or push off – and, over a period of years, the nails or screws inexorably disappear into the tree bark.
    [My uncle, a sawmiller in Scotland, used to curse when he sawed into old musket balls in oak or beech trees; despite these being lead, they would dull his saw, which would require sharpening].
  • Carry a couple extra items in your backpack to avoid crumpling up or bending aluminum roofing nails when installing markers into higher elevation trees that have hard, dense wood.
  • Take along a couple of deck screws and a Robertson screwdriver (or ratchet screwdriver) and drive the deck screw in at a downward angle, and then remove it. Next, carefully tap the roofing nail down into the handy hole that you created to secure the trail marker firmly.
  • The downward angle allows the trail marker to slide down against the tree when ice and snow pull on it, rather than the marker folding outward. Usually, a gap of about 5mm is left between the head of the nail and marker to allow for incremental tree growth in the next five to ten years. Most trail makers are designed to hold up and be visible for a decade or more.
  • Although this may mean extra weight in your backpack, at least the aluminum roofing nails are almost weightless compared to a bag of steel common nails.

Safely Installing Trail Markers
An example aluminum roofing nail alongside a trail marker. (Photo credit: Alex Wallace)

Did you know trail markers can be transformed into a directional arrow using your next-door neighbour’s sheet metal snips?

TIP: Did you know trail markers can be transformed into a directional arrow using your next-door neighbour’s sheet metal snips? (Photo credit: Alex Wallace)

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