Wooden Arrows and Entropy

by Chelle Grald, GMHA Trails Manager

Romance and History

For most of the century past, wooden arrows nailed to trees have marked the path of our historic 100-mile Ride, proudly painted red, white and blue. That ride is the first of its kind in the nation – the beginnings of the sport of distance riding and GMHA’s first claim to fame. Confidence markers are painted round can-tops, also nailed to trees. Because of the sheer effort involved in marking and unmarking 100 miles of trails with heavy wooden arrows, generous landowners have allowed us to keep them up year-round. We used wood and metal in the 1940’s because that is all we had. We then continued to use wood when lighter and longer-lasting options became available because it was traditional and there was something romantic about the simple, wooden arrows. It spoke of our history.

Enter Entropy

The problem is – wood rots and metal rusts. Entropy always wins, but with wood it wins faster. Paint fades and then, because it is labor intensive to remove and re-paint the arrows, they get spray-painted in place by overworked and definitely underpaid volunteers, with overspray adding to the general impression of chaos. The blue markers are hard to see in the dark woods so flourescent pink dots were added. Put a few other markers onto the trees for Member’s Loops and specific events, and before long the whole thing starts to look like tree abuse. When the markers are hard to see or the turns are easy to miss, we add two markers. You get the idea.

The dreaded overspray.

Lumbering Through the Hills

With the exception of the 100-Mile, our trails are marked with plastic arrows, easily affixed by staples, and streamers affixed by clothespins. They are lightweight and reusable. Because our logo is on them, trail users, neighbors and landowners know whom to hold accountable if they are left up long after the event is over. A lot of our trail is marked by ATV – it is fast and low impact when you consider how many miles of trail we mark and unmark in a year. When 100-mile time rolls around, that all goes out the window. We hit the trails with wooden arrows, nails, screw guns, hammers, metal can tops and as many wooden stakes as we can strap onto the vehicle (which, unfortunately, is never enough). Large sections of the trail can not be permanently marked, so the arrows on wooden stakes are employed as temporary markers. Trail marking takes twice as long and requires a lot more sweat (and ATV fuel) in the late August sun. Volunteers return exhausted and grumpier than usual. Last year, one of my most stalwart and faithful trail markers returned from a long, hot day, looked me in the eye and said ‘I’m buying you new markers.’ And so it began!

For Our Neighbors and Our Riders

This year, we will be replacing the wood and tin with plastic. The new arrows are smaller, brighter and easier to look at. Riders should find that they are easier to see and follow. They are easier to attach and remove for landowners who would rather we not leave them up year-round, and have far less impact on the trees as they are stapled instead of nailed. They are easy to transport, requiring less trips for the trail marking volunteers, less fuel, and less impact from our vehicles on the trails. Furthermore, they have our logo on them, for accountability. We hope that our landowners and neighbors will appreciate our attention to the aesthetics and the environment and continue to support the 100-mile trail.

The new markers are brighter, lighter and less obtrusive. We think our neighbors, landowners and other trail users will thank us.

Folk Art

When all of that lumber and tin comes off the trees this year, it will be a little bit sad. As cumbersome and outdated as they are, those arrows have a certain beauty and charm. They have even inspired paintings! The old ones are like pieces of folk art – complete with that weathered patina that is so popular these days. A few will be displayed in the Roger Maher Visitor’s Center, but the rest will be free for the taking for all of our members. If you’d like a few to put on your mantle, hang in your tackroom or mark your own trails at home, all that we ask is that you come and help us to take down the old and put up the new.

Join the Marker Renovation Team

Our goal is to have the trail re-marked by Distance Days, which will happen as usual on Labor Day weekend. Won’t you volunteer to take on a section of trail? It can be done on foot, horseback, ATV, or even by car as many sections are on the road. It’s not difficult, as long as you’re able to operate basic hand tools. You can pick a nice day anytime in the spring or summer before mid-August. Grab a few friends and make it a party!

To volunteer to re-mark a section of the 100-mile trail, contact Chelle Grald at michelle@gmhainc.org, or call 802-457-1509.

Wooden arrows are proudly displayed in the Roger Maher Visitor’s Center. Would you like some folk art for your tack room or home decor?