In many areas, trails can have small signs or interpretation panels carrying short messages and pictures relating to features on the site.
There are many types of structure, as follows.
– Simple wooden posts of substantial dimensions can be angled off at a convenient height to provide a surface on which to glue or screw small plaques with an interpretative message. The message can be engraved into material such as plastic or metal, or printed on materials encapsulated in plastic or resin. The posts
should be placed so that they are orientated towards the point of interest. The plaques can be damaged accidentally or deliberately, so some maintenance and replacement will be required.
– Sawn slabs of wood in single or multiple units can be used for larger panels. The artwork can be printed in the same way as for the smaller posts, but it can contain more information, pictures or even photographs. The materials and techniques described in Chapter 4 for information signs can also be applied to interpretative signs. A useful design is one in which a recessed section is routed out of the face of a timber slab. The upper and lower edges of the recess should be angled to create a dovetail joint. A separate panel is slid into this and secured by a side piece fixed by recessed screws. The interpretative panel can be removed easily over the winter, or for repair or updating (see diagram).
– Metal-framed structures can be used to carry plaques in places where vandalism is a problem. They can be galvanized, plastic coated, enamelled or made of Cor – ten steel. They also fit into places with more buildings, where a more finished appearance is appropriate. The plaques can use the same materials as described above.
– Small panels in circular or oval shapes can be fixed to rocks, either where they occur naturally or placed there for the correct orientation. Where feasible, engraving using a sandblasting technique is the most effective method to give a legible message that blends with an irregular surface.
– Larger on-site panels can also be used. These might be needed at a major viewpoint along a trail, at a wildlife observation area, or at an important
cultural, historical or archaeological site.
The structures described for information panels could also be used in these circumstances, although the layout of text and graphics will be different.
– Listening posts are devices that contain a cassette tape player, from which a loop tape plays a message. They can be powered by energy from solar panels.
They are useful where blind or partially sighted people use the trail, or where the sounds of animals help to evoke the right atmosphere. The posts can be free standing or incorporated into an interpretative panel containing written and pictorial material.
As in all types of structures used outdoors, panels should be subservient to the landscape, and should be chosen for form, size, colour and materials that will fit the local surroundings. Graphic techniques have to present a memorable message without this becoming intrusive. Bright colours and shiny finishes tend to look out of place, as do overelaborate graphics. All structures must be carefully maintained and cleaned at least once a year before the visitor season.