Know What's Underground for Safe Trail Work

By Whitney Nefstead, Rhino Marking & Protection Systems

Trail building and installing sign posts can lead to accidental damage to buried pipelines and cables. Call 811 from anywhere in the country a few days prior to digging, and your call will be routed to your local One Call Center.

Safe trail construction and maintenance

Imagine waking up bright an early on the first warm day of Summer, bags packed from the night before, and grabbing a quick bite to eat before spending the day on your favorite hiking trail. As you arrive at the park and make your way to the trailhead, you choose a path you have never hiked before. Feeling inspired, you choose the most difficult trail. After a few hours of uphill climbing, you stop, take a rest, and grab your lunch while sitting at a beautiful lookout point. As you’re eating you notice a construction crew nearby working on an old trail path. There are no flags, paint or locate marks near the construction area, but you don’t think much of it and continue along the path.

Little did you know the construction crew didn’t call 811 to have the buried utilities marked before digging. The crew was only inches away from striking an electric cable powering a ranger station a few miles away. Understanding what is buried below and how to manage that knowledge for the safety of the trail builders, trail users, and environment is critical for trail preservation.

Even a simple post installation, changing the grade of a trail, planning trees, shrubs, installing sprinklers, retaining walls, pulling tree stumps, etc. requires some sort of excavation, leaving you and the buried infrastructure at risk. Some people don’t call because they don’t think they are excavating, or even digging.

The legal definition of digging differs from state to state, so when in doubt, call 811 and the One-Call operators will let you know if you need a locate. The depth and age of buried facilities can also vary, posing an unknown threat to those working on the trail. It doesn’t matter if your trail is deep in the woods or in the middle of town, buried infrastructure is everywhere. Pipelines and cables can run under or near trails, cables can be used for lighting power lines, etc.

Before digging, make sure you understand your state’s One-Call law. One-Call Centers are tasked with getting the public facilities marked within the excavation site. Once you understand the law, identify the area you plan to dig and outline that area with white paint. This will save the locator time and allow you to work on the trail sooner. After “white-lining,” call your local One-Call Center to notify them of the excavation.

You’ll also need to call all buried utility owners in the area that do not belong to the One-Call Center. The One-Call Center should give you a list of every member who will be notified of the excavation. After waiting the required length of time before excavation, you can begin your project. While digging, respect the locate markers and make sure to hand dig when you are within the “hand dig” zone, stated by your local One-Call law.

In addition to practicing safe excavation, properly marking your trails should be just as important. Providing a clear, visible message for all trail users helps keep them informed and safe. Using 911 or QR code decals can provide the exact mile marker location in case of an emergency. QR codes can also provide digital trail maps or detailed safety information for trail users that have a SmartPhone.

Providing a flexible marker or sign that offers 360° visibility, safety information, and the strength to withstand harsh outdoor environments will greatly extend the life of your trail message and the safety of your trail users.

When it comes to recreational trails, safely constructing, maintaining, and marking each path will undeniably provide a fun and safe environment for trail users of all ages.

For more information

Call 811 from anywhere in the country a few days prior to digging, and your call will be routed to your local One Call Center.

For additional free resources, visit the Common Ground Alliance website. The Common Ground Alliance is a “member-driven association dedicated to ensuring public safety, environmental protection, and the integrity of services by promoting effective damage prevention practices.”

For more information on safely marking your trails, call 800-522-4343 or visit

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