Park Structures and Facilties
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THE CLASSIFICATION "Signs and Markers" is not concerned with entrance signs alone. It embraces a broad range of devices for facilitating use, enjoyment and understanding of a park by the public. As development of any area proceeds there is bound to be coincident multiplication of kinds and numbers of required signs and related objects—directional, designative, regulatory, cautionary, or merely informative of natural or historical fact.

Nothing in parks, unless it be the entranceway, offers wider legitimate scope for individuality in conveying the characteristics or background of a particular area than do the signs and markers. These can be the embodiment of those rare and distinguishing features that have dictated the establishment of the park—the motifs in miniature of the park motif.

A visitor on pilgrimage to the reconstructed village of Lincoln's young manhood in New Salem State Park, Illinois, is subtly put in receptive and reverent mood for the illusion of a mid-western backwoods village of the eighteen-thirties by the very character of the stylized signs and markers. The black, uncertain lettering on white background, in its hand-made irregularity and wavering course lines, recalls the crude typography of the newspapers and handbills of the period and place. Instantly imagination is in pitch, and understanding in tune, with the melody about to be re-sung for us.

The signs and markers of those parks whose glory is some unique or unusual outcome of natural forces can often clearly echo these characteristics to a welcome avoidance of the trite. Witness the nature shrine at Obsidian Cliff in Yellowstone National Park, formed of basaltic columns of hexagonal section in their natural relation to one another, which formation is a conspicuous phenomenon of this area. There are as well other markers herein presented, which through clever and skillful recall of a local feature, are neither banal nor fantastic, but succeed in achieving great individuality and distinction.

The day when the quintessence of naturalism for park signs was to paint them on boulders and cliffs is within the memory of many of us. Happily our developing sense of fitness has had a swing away from this sort of thing. The utter inappropriateness of nailing signs to trees is also better understood in the light of today's park-mindedness. Perhaps a warning note should be sounded against a noted recent tendency to bring to the park sign something of modern commercial eye-arresting technique. By no means need the park entrance sign seek to compete with the twenty-four-sheet cigarette poster further down the road nor is there merit in three or four messages conveyed by as many different signs, wherever all might logically be accumulated to one sign. Several such groupings that successfully exemplify these points are illustrated on the following pages.

There is an interesting and growing movement to acquaint the using public with the details of a park area through the medium of maps. The routes of foot or horse trails, the locations of points of historical or scenic interest, the relationship between notable features and areas of intensive or specific use are graphically told to great advantage. Such informative devices, provided at strategic points, can offer a wealth of fact with wide appeal to varied interests, and make possible a broader understanding of an area than endless tramping over the actual terrain could give.

Informative or educational maps may take the form of simple painted signs showing the course of a particular trail, the route to an historic spot, or the reconstruction of remains of military earthworks or Indian mounds. They may become elaborate, decorative cartograms or cartographs arranged under glass, visualizing geological cross-sections, military maneuvers, subterranean caverns, or topography.

Lately the educational value of the relief model reproducing at small scale the terrain of an entire park area has come to be more fully appreciated. Created of plaster, such models are already on exhibition in nature and history museums within our parks. Proposed of concrete construction, several are now under consideration for outdoor locations. Such models, supplemented with suitable inscriptions, can offer comprehensive visualization of mountain-building movements, and subsequent erosion of the land by water, wind and ice, or convey an understanding of a military engagement or vanished civilization that is unapproached by any other medium.

Often signs of informative or educational purpose tend to be something very like minor museums out-of-doors. These highly developed nature or history shrines serve to bring the recorded fact, theory, or interpretation to the very scene of the prehistoric or historic occurrence, or the actual location of the scientific or natural phenomenon. This is of tremendous value in offering the most complete exposition possible of those things which the park exists to commemorate or to preserve. The more elaborate of these informative devices are actually the transition between the mere sign and the museum that has won legitimate place in a natural park. Some are at once truly glorified sign and museum in embryo.

This sign panel is illustrative of the styling of lettering to a particular period conspicuous in the historic past of a site or region. In this instance the era is that of the American frontier, the motif is the primitive and faltering printing press of the newly conquered wilderness, while the interest is the Lincoln legend.

Signs in Control of Traffic

Surrounding are signs intended to function in control of traffic. All are of pleasing, rustic character. The examples at Custer and Dolliver Memorial State Parks serve to demonstrate clearly the decorative quality of logs from which the knots are not entirely obliterated. Very practical because low in height, and therefore causing no interference with vision, are the entrance and exit signs of the parking area at Black Hawk State Park.

Plate B-1 (click on image for a PDF version)

Black Hawk State Park, Illinois

Dolliver Memorial State Park, Iowa

Caddo Lake State Park, Texas

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Directional Signs

Here are directional signs none the less inspired because they are simple. Outstandingly original is the foot trail sign post, indicating the way by means of a footprint instead of the hackneyed pointing index finger. The failure to remove the bark from the uprights of this sign and the companion sign directly below it, is hardly subject to censure in the case of items so minor in character. Signs are well kept low in height when there is no vegetation threatening to obscure them.

Plate B-2 (click on image for a PDF version)

Zilker Metropolitan Park, Austin, Texas

Turner Falls State Park, Oklahoma

Zilker Metropolitan Park, Austin, Texas

White Pine Forest State Park, Illinois

Directional Signs

The urge to capture naivete and rusticity in park signs should not lead to illegibility in lettering. These qualities are best confined to the form of the sign panel itself and to the upright supporting members. All the lettering on the signs shown in the surrounding illustrations follows familiar forms without prejudicing wilderness character.

Plate B-3 (click on image for a PDF version)

Caddo Lake State Park, Texas

Mount Nebo State Park, Arkansas

Itasca State Park, Minnesota

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Entrance or Designative Markers

In the upper examples on this page is more primitive character than in the markers shown below. The sign at White Pine Forest Park illustrates the possibility of combining this facility with a rail fence. The staggering of the letters in the second line of the Kitchawan Tavern sign will have its critics. Signs like this are produced by sheet metal or asbestos templates, a blow torch, and, for the last line, just the right degree of intemperance.

Plate B-4 (click on image for a PDF version)

Custer State Park, South Dakota

White Pine Forest State Park, Illinois

Sand Run Metropolitan Park, Akron, Ohio

Bronx River Parkway, New York

Designative Markers and Nature Shrines

These items have little in common to warrant this grouping on one page, beyond being basically signs. The Casa Grande entrance sign is a clever conception, hammered out of sheet copper and filled with concrete. It serves as marker and for separating in and out traffic at the entrance to this park. The specimen at upper right typifies the blow torch technique, with the letters painted for increased legibility. Below are examples of the nature shrine—the link between the mere marker and the trailside museum.

Plate B-5 (click on image for a PDF version)

Casa Grande National Monument

National Park Service Regional Office

Nature Shrine, Yellowstone National Park

Nature Shrine, Yosemite National Park

Plate B-6 (click on image for a PDF version)

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Last Updated: 5-Dec-2011