Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An occasional sign of appreciation

 A frequent visitor and enthusiastic volunteer has begun posting signs (an example is provided above) along some of the trails providing them with designations to aid in orientation and recollection of location. They are small, tasteful, and unobtrusive labels that should cause minimal harm to the trees. We ask that the volunteer avoid posting signs on oak trees, however, which are particularly susceptible to infection of diseases, like oak wilt, after incurring even small wounds.

This volunteer independently contrived the idea and proposed his plan to me, and after careful deliberation, members of the SNRE Properties Committee and I have decided to tentatively permit the volunteer to proceed with his project. It is important to note that the trail names are not official, permanent, or endorsed by the University of Michigan or the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE); and, this should not be perceived as a sort of pilot program in order to decide how a trail-naming system should be derived or what those names should be. Although the Stinchfield Woods property is owned and managed by the University of Michigan, we encourage and appreciate the input of our visitors and supporters. However, any and all use of the property remains subject to approval by the Administration Office of SNRE of the University of Michigan.

That being said, if there are any questions, comments, or concerns please do not hesitate to contact me at I appreciate your feedback and suggestions. Thanks to all our visitors and volunteers. I'll see you in the Woods!


  1. A great idea. Someone recently asked me if I had names for the trails here at Saginaw Forest, but the property really isn't large enough to need way-marker signs.

    It would be a great thing to see if the signs help out at Stinchfield.

  2. Re: signs in the woods

    Something to consider . . . .
    A few years ago, an SNRE student devoted their thesis to trail markers in natural areas. The results of that research led to the intentional "lack of trail markers" in Stinchfield Woods. The gist of the research findings: There are health benefits associated with walks in unmarked natural areas, and it is increasingly rare to find wooded areas (near urban areas) without human signage. I'll try to find the name and author of that thesis paper for you.

    Obviously, the current signmaker and everyone approving of these signs are really well intentioned. We all want to encourage people to enjoy walks in the woods. But please realize, something as small as a sign alters the experience of the woods. Stinchfield Woods is a rare "public" natural area. It is surrounded by wooded parks with trail signage (Hudson Mills metropark and Silver Lake state park).

    Instead of actually posting signs, could you consider simply naming the trails on your trail maps? If the names reflect natural features, it would enhance people's experience of the woods. For those of us who love the experience of walking unmarked trails, we would have the option of skipping the map.

    If you walk the trails fairly regularly, you may notice some really obvious natural trail markers at many trail intersections . . .

  3. I agree with what smphall said above, but I would also go so far as to say that these wood signs are not even trail directional markers. Such markers are typically at intersections and are visible. These wood signs are at intervals along the trail and aren't even in a good sight path. What is their intent? To me, they aren't really a "sign of appreciation", rather a sign of someone's vanity. They are vanity plates staking claim to an area not unlike how a dog would mark it's territory by urinating on a spot. "Nate"? "Alek"? "Mike"? While I'm on what I hope to be a quite sojourn in the woods, why would I want to see wood-burned signs put up by someone in homage to their pals or family? If said person wants to pay back Stinch, it's users and provide a true "sign of appreciation", they should do what too many Stinchfield users DON'T DO -- help keep the trails cleared and maintained for use. This means maybe stopping to move a movable branch that has fallen across the trail after a storm, or, carrying a small folding saw to cut a dead pine or tree crown that has fallen across the trail. This is appreciation. This is respect. There is a difference between staking claim and giving back.

  4. To smphall and chiefpotawatomi:

    First, I apologize for your dissatisfaction and hope that it does not change your attitude regarding Stinchfield Woods. I would very much be interested in reading the paper smphall mentioned. That sounds like a fascinating research topic and I would very much like to see how it was concluded that the presence or absence of signs in natural areas produces a measurable effect on a person's health. In fact, the study may be relevant to other projects I am involved with and I would be grateful to have that information.

    The purpose of the original post concerning the signs was to inform Stinchfield Woods visitors about the project and the nature of the signs, as well as serving as a way of gathering feedback from the public. More effort should have been made to collect and interpret input from other visitors before this volunteer's idea was fully implemented (though, I never expected it to be completed so quickly), and for that shortcoming I take full responsibility. It should be noted, however, that I have received comments of approval, and have not heard any negative feedback until now. The feeling of the University and I was essentially that the signs were not unattractive nor obtrusive, so it would be okay to allow the volunteer to make (what he believed to be) this contribution to the Woods.

    I also take responsibility for labeling the project "an occasional sign of appreciation". It was merely an attempt at being clever and catchy - it is clear that tact and zing are not necessarily complimentary goals. However, I believe it is unfair to imply that this volunteer is "staking claim" and does not contribute in other ways like removing fallen branches from trails or reminding mountain bikers that bicycles are not permitted on the property. It is possible that the idea was not selfishly motivated, but derived from a sincere intent to contribute something that is believed by some to be of value.

    But, as with all decisions involving multiple stakeholders, it is virtually impossible to ensure that all parties are satisfied with the outcome. It was the decision of the University to permit the posting of the signs without actually participating in any step of the process; and, as of now, it maintains the same stance on the signs removal. It is unfortunate, however, that it seems that somebody has taken it upon him/herself or themselves to deliberately and destructively negate the well-intentioned labor of another. I hope, and would expect, that the matter is approached in a more civil manner and welcome any additional input, as well as the chance to facilitate a constructive conversation regarding the issue.

  5. You have to love a world where it is o.k. for a land manager of a public natural space to allow someone to screw in dozens of signs with names of his friends and words like Junk and 2Dog into live trees; yet, for an individual to pedal a nonmotorized bicycle through the same space is considered some gross violation of land aesthetics and ethics. What a great environmental message from the UofM SNRE.

    1. yes, UofM tends to assume an air of superiority

  6. I would think it most helpful for people new to the trails to have directional signs... so they don't get lost.

    " -> 2 mile loop " or "-> exit to N. Territorial"

    I think tat the objections to these unobtrusive signs quite silly.

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