I am writing to follow-up on an article published recently regarding the difficulty some hikers experienced in trying to follow the signage on the Andes Rail Trail. I want to start by acknowledging that the local Andes and nearby area residents that worked hard to develop the trail for the community are the same people that developed the signage. I know that I am grateful to them all and I know that everyone who walks the trail is too (as I think the lost hikers article also acknowledged). Maybe I can shed some light on the subject of trail signage.
It is very difficult to communicate everything that you want to say on small signs that are designed to unobtrusively impart information along the trail itself. One cure is to carefully study the map that is provided in the kiosk at the trailhead. This will tell you the distance you can walk on the marked trail and will describe if it is an “out and back” trail, or a loop, or if it has both types along the way.
Loops: by definition, a loop trail sign indicates that the loop part of the trail will begin and proceed along, eventually returning to the same place that the loop began. For this reason, you can follow the loop around, either by starting to the right or to the left at the sign indicating the loop, and by following the trail markers you will return to the spot where the loop began.
Out and back: all trails can be hiked out and back. You go as far as you want on the trail, and then turn around to enjoy the views on your return trip as you head back to your car. The Andes Rail Trail provides two places specifically identified for turning around and heading back, one is at the end of the rail bed portion of the trail and the other is at the end of the ‘spur’ (whether you also do the loop or not), where a sign points back to the way you came with the word “Depot” – where you parked your car and started the trail.
The exception to an ‘out and back’ hike experience only occurs if you know (from the kiosk or other maps/info about the trail) that the trail crosses a public road and only if you have already parked (spotted) a second car at that other crossing. Then you can avoid going back the way you came.
It might also be important for new hikers to know that the builders of the Andes trails anticipated that some of the users of the trail could be new to hiking, so they used helpful signs like arrows to point the way when there is a turn in the trail. This is not done on the State park hiking trails. On those trails, one follows the trail markers nailed to the trees, and a turn is indicated by two markers, one placed above the other marker, which tell the hiker that a turn is occurring. You have to look around and find the next marker to know which way to go.
By the way, on any trail, it is always a good idea to keep the next marker in sight when hiking a trail. The trail designers put up the markers so that you can see the next marker when you are standing next to a marker on a tree.
I hope that this information is helpful and encouraging to everyone. The Andes Rail Trail, out and back and loop, is a wonderful way to experience the woods, fields, views and beauty of the Catskills. Enjoy!~
Edie Mesick, Roxbury