How is a trail born? Behind the scenes of trail marking

Israel National Trail at the Carmel area. Photo: Dov Greenblat SPNI

Trail marking allows hikers to walk through trails that were previously inaccessible. In order to find out how a marked trail is born, how many professionals it takes to mark just one trail and what is Israel’s longest trail, we met Moti Ben Chitrit, head of SPNI’s Israel Trails’ Committee.

Trail marking key

Let’s start at the beginning

The first trail in Israel was marked during November 1947, in the Judean Desert, between Ein Feshkha and Ras El Feshkha. The trail was 3Km long, and the marking took place just a few weeks before the outbreak of Israel’s Independence War.

The person behind this trail marking initiative, was a civic engineer named Hillel Berger, that was, better known as a topography instructor for the Hagana (Jewish paramilitary organization that operated during the British mandate in Israel), and later on as IDF instructor. Berger wrote and published many guide books about topography in Israel.

The idea of trail marking originated from Eastern European countries, such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania. The marking method is named the “marking rectangle”:  a bold color paint strip, 5cm (approx. 2”) wide, accompanied by two white stripes on each side. The centered color had to be striking and easily visible from a distance and further highlighted by the white stripes. it. This method was adapted and modified according to the local Israeli topography.

How is a trail born?

In spite of various myths concerning the meaning behind the colors marking each trail (we heard stories suggesting that a red mark is an indication of an extreme trail, a blue mark indicates there used to be sea where the trail now runs etc.), colors of the trail have no specific meaning despite the fact that they need to be highly noticeable, in order to be seen from a great distance. Marking the trail using a certain color does not categorize it, nor suggest a certain nature, length or suitability to a certain fitness level. The one aspect receiving special attention is the crossroad between trails. In order to avoid confusion, different trails meeting at a specific point are clearly marked by different colors.

But a brush and a can of paint are not enough when it comes to trail marking. The process requires a number of professionals, specializing in nature conservation and public safety. The concept of trail marking revolves around increasing comfort and safety, while protecting and preserving nature values.

 INT markings

The trail is ready

Once the trail is marked and published, it becomes the responsibility of the statutory authority in charge of the geographical area the trail is a part of. Thus, a trail that runs through the territory of the Misgav Regional Council is this council’s responsibility. A trail that runs through a nature reserve becomes the responsibility of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The markings of each trail are renewed every two-three years. This period can be shortened in response to hikers’ reports and updates. Many hikers reach us and provide current updates on the state of the markings, leading to a dispatch of a trail marking team to the field. Floods or infrastructure works we know of in advance will also result in trail marking maintenance.

A few more details you were probably wondering about while reading this article:

The current longest trail in Israel is the Israel National Trail – 1,100Km long (684 miles).

The last trail to be marked, at the moment, is the Cross-Negev, at the Ramat Negev Regional Council. The marking was finished only a few days ago.

How does one become a trail marker in Israel? You get in touch with the Israel Trails’ Marking Committee in SPNI and present your CV. It’s like every other job, only this one involves coming to work with a smile :)