by Dave Halsey, NOHVCC Contributing Writer

If there is one thing that’s universal about off-highway vehicle (OHV) trail signs, it’s that when it comes to size, color, quality, placement, or clarity of the message they send to riders, they are not universal. 

Trails signs vary widely, depending on whether the trail system is on land managed by a county, state or federal agency. And on public lands as well as private ATV parks, they may be confusing ... or absent altogether.

Proper signing of a trail system can mean the difference between a good ride and a bad ride. Riders that are all smiles as they load up the trailer at the end of the day. Or shaking their heads in total frustration, out on the trail, lost, hungry and low on fuel.

Recently, some State land managers and OHV program managers got together, looked at this issue, and created a document designed to help improve trail signage. It’s called “Guidelines for Trail Signing and Placement for Off-Highway Vehicles.”

The 18-page document was developed by the International Off-Highway Vehicle Administrators Association. INOHVAA is an organization founded by and for program managers who manage OHV recreation in their areas. The program managers can be on all levels -- federal, state, county, municipals, or private areas -- but the focus is on state level organizations. The INOHVAA manual is not intended to be signage policy, but general guidelines for the development of trail signing programs.

“The goal of this document is to provide international guidelines, to get more uniform trail signing,” said Mary Straka, MN DNR and Chair of the INOHVAA Trails Committee. “And the manual provides minimum guidelines: regulatory, caution and trail guidance markers and blazers. Each State and Province should further develop guidelines for their own information and guide signs.”

OHV trails often share routes used by snowmobile trails, as well as public roadways, so information for the guidelines came from multiple sources, said Straka. “We drew the information from existing state guidelines, as well as the International Association of Snowmobile Administrators, and the U.S. Forest Service. We also took into account information from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which is the Federal Highway Administration manual. They have some recommended guidelines on sign colors and shapes that we wanted to encourage states to be aware of.”

Topics covered in the manual include: trail sign plans and placement; traffic and directional signs on conventional roads; night-time riding and placement of reflective signs; sign mounting methods; regulatory and warning signs; core trail signs; examples of sign use at road crossings, bridges, trail intersections, and curves; and sign recommendations for OHV parks.

INOHVAA is in the process of making final edits to the sign guidelines manual. In the meantime, those interested in learning more about it, and receiving a copy, should contact Mary Straka, OHV Program Consultant with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, at 218-203-4445.

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