For hikers, campers, and hunters, knowing the laws and safety practices of the outdoors can be the difference between a lovely afternoon outside and life, death, or a long prison sentence. Still, in some rural states, there are some laws and necessary know-how that even the most avid outdoorsman might be unaware of—and that could land them in hot water.
For instance, in many remote and rural areas across America—in states like Texas, Maine, and Arizona to name a few—you might find yourself running into a curious sight: a fence post painted purple. Quaint, unique, and stylish, it’s not exactly cause for alarm in the minds of passersby. But it definitely should be…
In the late summer or early autumn—right at the start of hunting season—you might see a curious thing if you took a stroll through the vast, seemingly uncharted areas of rural North America: people painting fence posts and tree trunks purple.
To the uninformed hiker or hunter, this might seem like a strange choice for property decór as the purple clashes with the yellow-brown of burned grass and the deep green of evergreen trees. But the paint job isn’t an aesthetic choice.
Michael Pearce / The Wichita Eagle
So what’s up with the purple paint? Rudy Fernandez, a correspondent for rural Texas radio station KEAN 105.1, recently explained the meaning behind the purple fence post. Knowing what it means can actually save your life.
“I’ve been out with a couple of my friends here recently,” Rudy said, “and they said, ‘man, what’s up with all these purple posts? People love the color purple!” So Rudy dropped a knowledge bomb on his friends when he replied.
KEAN 105.1 / YouTube
See, over the years, property owners with huge swaths of land don’t want oblivious hikers or hunters passing through the area to wander, inadvertently, onto their properties, which often borders huge patches of untouched acreage…
Fences around the exterior of their properties can warn hikers and hunters to keep out and stay away, but over time, even the sturdiest fences break down, leaving withered posts that are less than ideal blockades. It didn’t take long before residents came up with a way to overcome that problem.
Bear River Heritage
No trespassing signs! Slap a couple of those bad boys out and you sent a loud and clear message to hunters and hikers: Beat it! Get lost! Take a hike (in the other direction)! But those signs, like the fences themselves, were not invincible.
KEAN 105.1 / YouTube
So that property owners wouldn’t have to keep replacing wind-swept and sun-bleached trespassing signs or constantly repair decrepit fences, Texas passed a law in 1997 that offered a permanent, more sustainable solution.
The law took after one first instituted in Arkansas in 1987 under then-Governor Bill Clinton and was passed in nine other states: Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Maine, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, and Kansas. Rudy broke the edict down for everyone on his radio show that day…
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library / White House
“In 1997, the state of Texas agreed we could paint a certain color on a fence post, and it could mean the same thing as…a ‘no trespassing’ sign,” Rudy said. Officials agreed on the representative color “posting purple” for a very particular reason.
KEAN 105.1 / YouTube
“Posting purple is a certain color that even colorblind folks can see,” Rudy said. “The way that the law read for years was that you had to paint the top of the fence posts, near the gates, and all along your property lines.” But in its original form, the law had a caveat.
KEAN 105.1 / YouTube
According to Rudy, in Texas, you couldn’t just slap some purple on your fence post and call it a day. In the early years of the law, the purple paint had to be accompanied by the trespassing sign, too…which kind of defeated the purpose of the paint. So…
A decade or so after the law was passed, “hunters, law enforcement officers, and folks that were gonna be out in the country” knew what the purple meant. They knew it only accompanied a trespassing sign. So the law changed.
The University Star
Under the revised law, the trespassing signs were no longer necessary. In Texas, purple paint on a post had all the authority behind it as a trespassing sign—but that led to some problems.
Traveling hunters, hikers, and rural explorers visiting Texas—or people like Rudy’s friends who were enthralled by the purple paint on posts—had no idea what the purple meant without the trespassing signs!
And let’s face it: to someone ignorant of the law, a tree trunk painted purple doesn’t exactly scream keep out in the same way a fence with a trespassing sign might. Stumbling on to purple paint-lined property might be worse than you think…
Private property is private property, signage or no, meaning a person with markings might’ve had a bad experience with trespassers in the past. And in Texas, property can be defended with deadly force.
That’s why Rudy levied a warning: “If you see [purple paint],” he said, “it means no trespassing, no hunting. Abide by it—it’ll keep you alive in the Lone Star State, and certainly, it’ll keep you out of trouble.”
KEAN 105.1 / YouTube
The last thing you would want on a hunting trip is to take a wrong turn onto someone’s private property; especially the private property of someone once scorned by trespassers.
Understanding signs can truly be life-saving, and that’s especially true on the road. Even the kid who slept through most of driver’s ed knows, if you see double-yellow lines in the road, you can’t drive over them to pass a car. Ignoring them can have big consequences.
When drivers in Mahwah, New Jersey, first spotted the blue streak splitting a roadway’s double yellow lines in October 2016, many were rightfully confused. It was like the very rules of the road changed overnight and no one bothered to tell them.
After all, the double yellow line carries a serious warning to drivers: don’t pass this, or you are putting other drivers — and yourself — in serious danger. The sudden appearance of the blue line was like adding a few new lights to an intersection: it was confusing and potentially dangerous!
What did the new blue lines mean? Were they marking carpool lanes? Were they designed for handicapped drivers? Just when curiosity about the blue lines peaked for those out of the loop, officials made other changes to the roadways…
In Dumont, New Jersey, for instance, workers painted a fat red line down the middle of one road’s double yellows. Then, not far from the red line, officials split a double yellow with a green line.
Dumont Volunteer Fire Department / Facebook
With all these new colors splitting New Jersey’s double yellow lines, visitors and some local drivers just wanted to know what hidden meaning they were missing out on. The answer was simple — and powerful.
See, year after year, Mahwah, New Jersey — a city of 25,890 people — ranked among the safest cities in the state. One local woman recognized that, and she wanted to celebrate and honor those responsible.
Local officials loved the idea, and shortly thereafter, the first blue line in Mahwah went right outside the city’s police station. The simple line honored police officers, and it set off a chain reaction across New Jersey — and a controversial debate.
Because after blue lines cut through the double yellows in Mahwah, they started turning up in other cities across the state. The Mantua police department, for instance, after seeing the lines in their district, had this to say…
North New Jersey
“The blue line…is a symbolic reference to law enforcement,” the department wrote on Facebook. “It describes the concept that the police are what stand between the victimizers and would-be victims.” Their message continued.
City of Spokane
“Our hope is that it serves as a reminder that we are here to help and will do what we can to intervene to keep you and your loved ones safe. With all the turmoil in the country…although not perfect, [we] do our best to accomplish our mission.”
This message caught on, and soon, those red lines showed up for firefighters, and green lines showed up celebrating first responders and medics. All was well until the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHA) involved itself.
The federal bureaucrats contacted New Jersey officials and, citing the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, called the lines illegal. Markings celebrating police officers illegal? Talk about irony.
An FHA spokesperson had this to say: “We appreciate the impact of expressing support for law enforcement officers and value their contributions to society…”
“However,” the FHA continued, “there are many appropriate and fitting ways to recognize service to the public that do not involve the modification of a traffic control device, which can put the road user at risk due to misinterpretation of its meaning.”
The feds elaborated, stating that — for the sake of clarity and uniformity — blue can denote handicap parking spots and only handicap parking spots. Following the FHA’s statement, dissenting voices grew louder.
A contingent of blue line opposition argued the lines were not only unsafe but a waste of taxpayer money. As one blue-line critic put it, “I would say pass on the blue line in favor of a community event.” Of course, this only galvanized the blue line supporters.
Hans Gutknecht / Los Angeles Daily News
New Jersey resident Stephen Soria, for instance, dismissed the idea drivers would be confused by the lines. “In the middle of the street in front of the police station, I wouldn’t think for a second it’s a handicapped spot,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet denied the blue lines were a waste of tax money. The town used employees already on staff to do the painting, and the blue paint was leftover from the city’s efforts to paint handicap spots.
Furthermore, the mayor said the lines would stay until, essentially, the feds threw him in a prison cell. “Mayors don’t usually do things that are also illegal,” he said. “But if you want to call this line illegal, that’s all right with me.”
Finally, the Mahwah police chief defended the line, too. The blue line “means a lot to our officers,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s a game-changer, but it has an impact. I don’t think someone sitting in an office in Washington or Trenton may get that.”
To put the issue to rest, New Jersey’s U.S. Congressional Representatives — Republican Leonard Lance and Democrat U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, below — introduced a bill that allowed towns to paint roadways to honor public servants.
But by the end of 2018, it seemed the bill died somewhere on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, the blue line supporters and the blue line detractors still hadn’t reached consensus. Towns with the lines in roadways offered no plans to remove them.