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A Survey of Signage in Parks and Public Spaces in the Pacific Northwest

By Charlie McCabe

One aspect of parks and protected natural spaces that I'm keenly interested in is the management of invasive plant species, the restoration of degraded areas in those spaces, and the interpretation of that work, primarily via on-site signage. There's always a story to tell and it's seldom a static tale, so I'm always interested in how signage is designed and installed. On a recent trip to the Vancouver, Seattle, and Olympic National Park, I found a number of excellent examples, both permanent and temporary, that I thought I'd share. And as others have reported, QR codes on signs have continued to show life after their alleged death (of course, the pandemic helped bring them back more than anything).

I should also note that while there's always an undercurrent of parks people who worry about "sign pollution," I am not one of them. In my 20 or so years of working in parks, I've yet to find "too many signs" in any park I have visited or worked in. I've seen some badly produced signs, or signs that are worn and need replacing, but not too many. The need for valuable information in public spaces is strong, and signage is a cost-effective way to educate the public on rules, history, courtesies, and directions that apply to specific places.

So, what follows is an informal survey of some of the signs I came across in my 12 days of travel.

In Vancouver, I saw a lot of small garden beds that were obviously well-loved and maintained. I appreciated the small signs confirming that a particular garden was adopted or sponsored in some way.

Temporary signs get a message out quickly and efficiently, for example, in public spaces where people might think that a given area needs to be mown. You can also easily revise them as needed. The following sign is from Seattle denoting newly established pollinator habitat.

And this sign is in Olympic National Park, no doubt placed there earlier in the spring.

Signs can also encourage appropriate behavior in parks, such as staying on the trails in sensitive areas. This is from the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park.

Here's another sign about leaving the trail and the damage you could bring to the surrounding landscape.

Telling people what you're up to is important. Most don't understand the challenges of restoration or what an invasive species is. This sign is from the restored area of Discovery Park in Seattle.

In the same area of Discovery Park in Seattle, I found this more permanent signpost. While not an intepretive sign, it does mention that you're entering an area under restoration and to stay on the trail.

There are many efforts in both Vancouver and Seattle to restore public land, especially wetlands. A few examples of some of the signage in Stanley Park in Vancouver follow, focusing on rewilding a meadow, what types of plant and animal life thrive on the edge of a pond, habitat restoration, and some of the insects present in restored wetlands.

Here's another good example of temporary signage filling a shorter term need. Signage doesn't have to be expensive.

And of course, I love interpretive signs dedicated to insects!

The next two signs are excellent educational tools, raising awareness about wildlife, specifically coyotes, living in the parks in Seattle (the first one) and Vancouver (second one).

And finally, a temporary sign with some facts about creatures you may not think of while in Olympic National Park.

If you enjoyed this brief survey of signs, don't worry, I'm always taking pictures of new ones I see and will report on another round soon.

© Copyright 2024, Charlie McCabe Consulting, LLC. Link to all articles in this series. 

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