Next Step for Our Hiking Trails

When hiking the Trail System at Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve you will soon find that the signage and mapping system has been comprehensively revamped. These changes will greatly enhance hiker navigation on the trail system and reflect changes made as part of Elachee’s conservation efforts within the Nature Preserve. ALSO READ BLOG: Counting Steps  Elachee volunteer David Scobey documents existing mileage markers along the Chicopee Woods hiking trail system for planned updates.

Alterations made to the hiking trails through time, for conservation-related purposes, have resulted in reroutes and trail closures subsequently reducing the available amount of trail. Long time hikers may be familiar with trails that followed old access roads – Old West Lake Trail, Walnut Creek Trail, Pine Mountain Trail and Upland Trail – closed for recovery as sustainable trail was built and made available. A measure of conservation-minded management success, the newly determined length of the hiking trail system is eight miles.

Changes Coming Soon to the Hiking Trails

Wayfinding Signage Update The wayfinding signs will have been inventoried and updated with new decals. They will be placed, where appropriate, at intersections and the decals will now include the trail blaze color and the mileage information. As such, the metal plates with the mileage information will no longer need to be screwed into trees along trails.

Hiking System Map Update Additionally, new maps will reflect changes made through time to the trail system including changes to trail names. The Bridge Loop will start and stop at the gravel Trailhead Parking, near the Elachee Visitor Center, and extends out to the Suspension Bridge. The Lake Loop will start and stop at the Chicopee Lake parking lot and it also extends out to the Suspension Bridge, overlapping briefly with the Bridge Loop.

Look for announcements of other future changes, along with rollout of the new map.

Following is an overview of the comprehensive trail signage and mapping system update project.

Step Back for the Path Forward

The hiking trails in Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve were initially made up using access roads crossing the Preserve that the Johnson & Johnson Company and others had constructed for water production, timber harvesting, farming, local transportation, and more, prior to protection of the land in the early 1980s by the Chicopee Woods Area Park Commission (formerly Gainesville Area Park Commission) and Elachee. These unpaved access roads suffered from erosive forces and were degraded with increasing runoff and soil loss. Elachee staff and volunteers have worked diligently for years to reroute trail away from the eroding road beds and onto sustainably designed paths that also provide for a better trail-user experience.

As noted, the process of rerouting trail resulted in a need to change the location of the trail mileage markers. In addition to that, the rerouting and closure of unsustainable trail for recovery also has altered the total length of the trail system itself. A measure of success in conservation-minded management, the trail system is now eight miles in total instead of 12 miles. Long time hikers may be familiar with Old West Lake Trail, Walnut Creek Trail, Pine Mountain Trail, Upland Trail and others that have closed through time as sustainable rerouted trail was made available. As Elachee continues to manage the trail system for which it is responsible, there will be other sections closed as reroutes are made onto sustainably-designed trail.

New Look for Wayfinding Signs

Efforts to update the mileage marker system have combined with other projects in motion in the Nature Preserve. The process of updating the location of the mileage markers resulted in a decision to post the mileage on the brown wayfinding signs on the trail system. The mileage markers were formerly displayed on metal plates affixed to trees using screws. It was important to avoid impacting the trees, and the screws had to be frequently loosened so that the tree would not grow over them. As part of an ongoing current mileage marker update project, the trail mileage will be posted at quarter-mile increments on the brown wayfinding signs with the actual terminal trail distance on the last sign for each trail.

Elachee trail crew volunteers cleaning wayfinding signs for updates and reinstallation along the Chicopee Woods hiking trail system.Additionally, a recent inventory of the brown wayfinding signs revealed there were 184 signs across the trail system. These signs had been installed incrementally as the trail system developed over the past 40 years. Sign conditions varied. Although some needed minor repairs, 65 signs were in good structural condition for continued use. However, some were damaged or broken. These markers were removed from the ground. All the signs had old decals removed, then washed to prepare them for new decals that will soon be attached.

Prioritizing ease of hiker navigation while limiting over-signage it was determined to place 85 signs across the trail system. The decals on the signs will include the trail blazes for each trail on the top followed by the trail name. Decals noting which turns lead toward the Nature Center, Trailhead Parking or Chicopee Lake will also be included at appropriate intersections. Trail blazes will also be painted on trees along the trail. This will result in a simplified system of navigation that is as conducive to an enjoyable experience within the Nature Preserve.

This process of signage and blaze updating is taking place in tandem with a preserve trail system map update. The map update has been undertaken to reflect the current state of the trail system and to better facilitate hiker navigation. Soon, a new printed map will be made available for hikers at the trail kiosks and pedestals, and online at www.elachee.org/hiking-trails.

Trail Name Updates

This comprehensive process has provided an opportunity to update and refresh everything associated with the trail system, including trail names. West Lake Trail and East Lake Trail have now been broken up into two separate loops. The Bridge Loop will start and stop at the gravel Trailhead Parking near the Elachee Visitor Center and extends out to the Suspension Bridge. The Lake Loop will start and stop at the Chicopee Lake parking lot, and it also extends out to the Suspension Bridge overlapping briefly with the Bridge Loop.

There will be other changes that will be elaborated on further in future communications, along with sharing the new map. Collectively, these changes will greatly ease hiker navigation on the hiking trail system and reflect changes made as part of Elachee’s conservation management efforts within the Nature Preserve.