2023 saw a noticeable uptick in theft and vandalism on signs along The Colorado Trail, and we want to take a moment to help trail users understand what not to do with trail signs on The Colorado Trail. The short answer to this is to say no to sharpies, stickers, and theft because all three of those lead to vandalism, confusion, and disrespect on the CT.
Besides trail maintenance, signage is one of the most important parts of a positive trail experience. Nobody likes getting lost or turned around. But, when trail users take things into their own hands and use a sharpie to write on existing signs, it can cause all sorts of problems.
A great deal of time, thought, and care go into each sign, starting from the design and ending with the arduous task of hauling it into the field and installing it. Horsepackers are used for transportation of larger signs, but most signage is brought in by foot. Volunteers, CT staff, partners, and other organizations spend countless hours ensuring the CT is properly marked.
Writing on a sign or stealing a CT trail marker (you can buy the exact metal signs we use to mark the trail with for $4.95 on the CTF website) can seem innocent enough, but it adds additional cost and work for maintaining “the most beautiful trail in America”. We have a lot of work to complete each summer, and adding on work caused by theft and vandalism is a burden.
A stolen trail marker could be the difference between a thru hiker taking the correct route or getting lost. Using a sharpie to write on a sign might seem helpful for other trail users, but imagine being the volunteer who hikes in 7 miles round trip to clean it up. Not to mention, are you sure you know the area well enough to provide “directions” to thousands of users a year? Trail signs are designed to relay as much information as possible in the simplest way possible, not for messages to other trail users or directions to what you consider a popular location. We also try to provide enough signage to guide users but not so much that it becomes annoying. Removing one sign could make the distance between remaining signs quite long. The databook, guidebook, phone apps, and social media pages are better avenues for that information.
As a CT user, if a new trail sign is put up that you disagree with, or if you feel we need additional signage in a particular location, we would like to hear about it. Please do not take it upon yourself to make changes to a sign by marking it up with a sharpie (or putting a sticker on the sign or the post). Vandalizing the signage in this fashion is, in fact, a federal offense.
So, the next time you are planning a trip on The Colorado Trail, leave the sharpie at home and instead bring your phone with you to document issues you have on the trail. These issues can be reported to the CTF, and we can plan to fix the issue in a fashion consistent with the rest of the trail. As we’ve tried to spell out here, taking matters into your own hands is not only illegal, unethical, and confusing but extremely disrespectful to the time and effort that staff, volunteers, partners, and sponsors put into building and maintaining this one of a kind experience.