Endangered Species


After a stressful week in NYC, I was happy to hop a plane to my home state of Minnesota for a weekend camping trip. After a two-hour drive from Minneapolis, I was transported to a land of tall pines, rushing rivers and a star-filled night sky. While these natural phenomena put me at ease, nothing says "vacation" like seeing the brown wooden signs in the Minnesota State Park system.

These hand routed wooden signs have been a signifer of summer for me ever since I was a kid. Painted a chocolate brown with gold lettering, the characters are always capitalized and set with generous letterspacing. I used to like to run my fingers across the letters, feeling the curve of an "s" or the contour of a stubby arrow.

Sadly, I saw a new kind of sign on my last trip -- a computer-generated vinyl sign asking for a state park permit. While the typeface makes an effort to be welcoming, and the wooden frame tries to say "nature," this new sign is a disappointment to me. Camping is about living off the land, enjoying simple things like fire. It's about no electricity and no computers.


I couldn't find a reference for how the Minnesota State Parks makes the wooden signs, but I'm guessing that they are expensive to produce and are therefore becoming extinct. As an aside, I found out that the National Park Service is required by law to use UNICOR (Federal Prison Industries) for all signs. And they have a web page with Ugly Signs made in desparation by park employees.

mark, Aug 5 2005 1:33PM

it has got to be the cost that is leading to their extinction. those vinyl signs practically make themselves; at the expense of legibility, though.

but if you are interested in making your own sign by router, try this kit. looks simple enough.

Ann, Aug 5 2005 6:19PM

That is kind of a shame, but I understand the cost issue. Unfortunately the new signs show evidence of computer technology in a place that most people would want to forget about anything related to computers. I'm sure it's more fun to imagine that there's some old guy in a cabin somewhere whittling those old signs by hand!

Sandie, Aug 10 2005 3:28PM

Ann, I think you're right. My nostalgia for the signs is based on the myth of some bearded old guy in a red plaid shirt (think Paul Bunyan) whittling away with a pocket knife. For all I know the wooden signs are made with a laser cutter.