Resources and Library:

Trailheads and signs

Hosted by


Developing a unified orientation and safety sign program for 500 miles of the Susquehanna River Water Trail.

arrow From the Summer 2008 American Trails Magazine
arrow Download Susquehanna River Orientation & Safety Panels Project Description and Information (pdf 266 kb)

Designing signage systems for water trails


photo of sign with map

Water trail sign at a boat ramp - click to enlarge

By Jon Kovach


Signs are even more important for water trails where there is no actual "treadway" and visitors need to be shown the path. Water trail routes can be very inexpensive, but maps, markers, and facilities to take boats in and out of the water are essential.

To find out where to camp, eat, and get supplies along a hiking trail, you can simply stop and check an informational kiosk along the way. However, kick off your hiking shoes, grab a paddle, and get in a boat.

Now how do you find out something as simple as where the next town is? If you've ever been on a water trail, you can appreciate just how useful a cohesive orientation system can be. The Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania now has such a signage system in place.

Through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, an extensive set of permanent, outdoor signage was installed at various boat access points along the river.

The purpose of the project was "to develop a unified orientation and safety signage system for over 500 miles of the Susquehanna River Water Trail."

The panels were designed to be installed outdoors, and have a permanent home there.


photo of sign with trail map

Detail of sign on the Susquehanna River Water Trail (click to enlarge)


High strength aluminum frames were chosen for their durability and ability to survive the harsh Pennsylvania seasons. The frames, and their fiberglass sign counterparts, measure approximately three feet by four feet, and are mounted at just about eye level. Each sign contains a map showing a 10 to 20 mile section of the river where the access point is located.

The signs were designed with ease of navigation and identification of landmarks in mind. Each sign communicates a range of resources that are available to the general public, including campsites, motels, restaurants, grocery stores, historical sites, museums, and other attractions.

Keeping boaters safe was also a main goal in the project. Hazards along the river, such as rapids and dams, are identified on the map. Each panel has a prominent safety message. Before getting on the water, all recreational boaters should know what is out there, and more importantly, how to get there.

In the past, temporary signage such as laminated prints, were used to post information about the river. Over time, these proved to be quite vulnerable to weather and vandals. The Pennsylvania Environmental Council identified problems such as fading, tearing, theft, and overall wear and tear and come up with a permanent solution to these problems.

photo of sign at boat ramp


Fiberglass embedded graphics were chosen because of their resistance to rain, snow, and sun. These panels, fabricated by Pannier Graphics, coupled with frames by the same company have proven to be impervious to the elements, vandalism, and theft.

The orientation and safety signage system going up along the Susquehanna River is proving to be invaluable to the general public. Thanks to new technologies, there is very little maintenance of the signs and frames themselves, which leaves more time to maintain the water trails system, and to create new opportunities for boaters along the Susquehanna River Water Trail.


photo of sign at boat ramp

Sign manufactured by Pannier Graphics in place at boating trailhead (photo from Jon Kovach)

When asked about the impact and success of the signage system as a whole, Project Manager at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council Hannah Hardy stated, "This project has really helped to provide more information to the users of the water trail and also to build the identity of the Susquehanna River Water Trail, which is a nationally recognized water trail. The local partners are very happy with the high level of design and durability of the panels."


About Pannier Graphics:

The trail industry has seen amazing strides in the quality of signs and exhibits over the past few decades. Pannier Graphics has been a leader in digital printing technologies used to create displays and maps specific to site locations: adding "you are here" indicators, site information, photos, facts, and more. Contact Jon Kovach, Art & Marketing Director, Pannier Graphics - (800) 544- 8428 x221.

Print Friendly
Print Friendly and PDF




Facebook Twitter

Stay up to date on legislative issues for trails, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


business directory


trail database

Need trail skills and education? Do you provide training? Join the National Trails Training Partnership!

The NTTP Online Calendar connects you with courses, conferences, and trail-related training

arrowEnjoy and share the new online, digital version of the American Trails Magazine!

arrowHelp us provide you more useful resources to keep you on the cutting-edge -- please join today!

arrowWe are advocating for your interests! Visit the Supporting Trails page to view the latest in legislative news, current issues, and opportunities, and to learn how to access funding.

arrow Sign me up for American Trails Action Alerts and e-Newsletters">Sign up for American Trails Action Alerts and Trail Tracks e-Newsletters.


PDF  Some of our documents are in PDF format and require free Adobe Acrobat Reader software.
  Download Acrobat Reader

section 508 logo American Trails and NTTP support accessibility with Section 508: read more.