A recent item in the Nashua Telegraph caught my eye a few days ago. The Amherst, N.H., Conservation Commission is struggling with an interesting problem – someone is going around smearing orange paint on trees, causing confusion with the official blazes that mark the trails at its Joe English Reservation. The commission recently sent letters to the editor appealing for the public’s help in identifying and stopping the vandal.

Anyone who’s ever been responsible for trail maintenance knows that trail marker vandalism is nothing new, and is quite common. Occasionally, it makes some sense. On trails marked with attractive organization symbols, hikers take them as a form of souvenir, without regard to the time and money it costs to replace them, not to mention the danger of sending someone off-trail in remote or dangerous terrain.

For several years, I spent my summers as the caretaker at a wildlife sanctuary, and trail maintenance was part of my regular routine. To discourage souvenir takers, we used simple blue and yellow disks drilled into trees at a height of about six feet, just far enough apart so that you could spot the next one down the trail. They were attached in a way that required some effort to remove them. It was not a casual act. And, since there was no decoration, their value as souvenirs was limited. Nevertheless, they still disappeared.

Most puzzling, and I never figured this out, every so often someone would very carefully pile up a few of the disks at the entrance gate, screws and all, and on a few occasions, I’d find them on the doorstep to my cabin. This happened a few times every summer. Was there a message here? I asked my supervisor if there was anyone with a beef against the organization that was just being a nuisance, but there wasn’t anybody he could think of. And since I didn’t know anyone much in the area, I hadn’t had much chance to offend anyone, so it wasn’t aimed at me personally.

The story about the “Phantom Trailblazer” in New Hampshire brought this all back to me, and the question still nags at me – now in both cases. Why would someone do this?

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