Posts Taged how-towns-get-names-on-road-signs

The Mysterious Adirondack Road Side Signage

If you have ever traveled to Long Lake or Raquette Lake from points south, west, north or east have you ever taken the time to notice and read the road signs?

I did a test.  I put up a photo on Instagram and asked if it was truth or fiction. I photoshopped the text “Long Lake” and mileage on a road sign located on NY Route 30 and 28 near Durant Lake between Indian Lake and Blue Mt. Lake.  The real sign only lists Blue Mountain and Tupper Lake distances.  Being sneaky and feeling somewhat nefarious on this March day, I inserted the text Long Lake and the mileage on the sign.  

I asked “truth or fiction” when I asked, ‘has anyone seen this sign’ the three responses were “TRUTH.”  Well I didn’t have to heart to say “actually, no, you’ve never seen this sign, because it doesn’t exist.”  

I didn’t want the audience to think I had betrayed them with my trickery and deceit. My big take-away is that if you’ve been to Long Lake or Raquette Lake, you know those brown and yellow DOT signs lead you the way to your destination.  A place of solitude, a place of escape, home away from home. The palpable excitement is more important than the words, but that’s because you are familiar with where you are going.  You are going somewhere you’ve been before. Road signs can evoke a sense of place and belonging.  So maybe you don’t actually read the words, but take away a feeling of nostalgia from the sign.  Maybe that’s it.

But what about the new people we want to come visit?  The guests we are promoting to in New York City on the busses, subways and at the airport terminals with I Love NY campaigns touting the natural beauty of the Adirondacks and promoting our small unique Adirondack Towns. What about those new, curious visitors who have never been here before who really need wayfinding to build confidence and pull them through an area they are unfamiliar with? What if they are traveling on the road, run out of cell phone service and their map aps don’t work if even for a short 15-20 minute run on the travel corridor?   

Credit Uli Seit for The New York Times

What if these guests need a road sign to re-assure them that they are going in the right direction?  What if they have a moment of doubt when they see said road sign, but their planned destination doesn’t make the cut as something notable enough to get listed on a sign, until you are actually 11 or 12 miles away from it?

Imagine, first time visitor, traveling up to the area on a Friday night from New Jersey and it’s 11 p.m. and you’ve gotten outside of Indian Lake and there’s miles of forest on either side of you.  Maybe you start to panic because well, there are few travelers, few lights and lots of trees. Finally a moment of relief when the headlights reflect on a sign with brown and yellow text.  The car gets closer and closer and you anticipate reading L O N G  L A K E or R A Q U E T T E  L A K E spelled out in Highway Gothic font, but as you approach said sign you realize your destination town isn’t listed.  And then you start to sweat and think, I might have made a wrong turn somewhere.  “Where’s a gas station? I need traffic lights and a smoothie and some human interaction.”    


Fun fact: As of this writing, May 2018 there are NO official traffic lights in Hamilton County.  (except for the temporary one on the Sabattis Circle Road Detour)  

What if you are this new traveler to the region and you think there is actually nothing in the 34 miles of road stretching between Blue Mountain Lake and Tupper Lake? It’s the what IF’s  especially in the world where all information is a click of a google map.  Visitors making their first trip should be vacation-ready and packed with patience,  pre-planning and the ability to read road signs.

If you are a year-rounder its likely you travel these roads, great distances, on a fairly regular basis. It’s typical to travel them to hit up the doctor, the orthodontist, chiropractor, the grocery store.  Routinely driving along stretches of these roads, chances are you’ve spent more time reading the signs and coming to the epiphany, “wait a second, why are some towns featured, and some towns not featured?”

So I decided to look up the regulations to unfurl the mysteries of destinations and community names and I found some information out. 

I uncovered the basics of Road Signing after googling a variety of topics.  Destination, Road Signs, mileage signs, how do towns names get on a road sign?  Why are some towns seemingly more special than others? 

I was able to see the rules in black and white provided by the US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Manual of Uniform Control Devices.  Link here:

Guidance for road signage had some interesting takes on the traveling public.   “Destination and distance signs are especially valuable to motorists unfamiliar with a particular area. Because some motorists are inattentive, read maps poorly, or do not adequately plan their trips, additional destination and distance signs can help “pull” them through an area.”

Section 2D.36 Distance Signs (D2 Series)

If used, the Distance, carrying the names of not more than three Cities, towns, junctions, or other traffic generators, and the distance (to the nearest mile) to those places.

The distance shown should be selected on a case-by-case basis by the jurisdiction that owns the road or by statewide policy. A well-defined central area or central business district should be used where one exists.

Where a total of three or less destinations, not more than three destination names shall be used on a Destination sign. Where four destinations are provided by the Advance Guide and Supplemental Guide signs, not more than four destination names shall be used on a Destination sign.

Well there it was explained.  What we had here was a crossroads, a T-intersection, a Sophie’s choice of road signage destination listing.  So it seems like we have FOUR destinations, we’d need TWO signs.  Are you following?  

If space permits, four destinations should be displayed as two separate sign panels.

In the case of overlapping routes, there should be shown only one destination in each direction for each route. And as it turns out, Raquette Lake is located along  Route 28 and Long Lake is Route 30 and 28N.

If a second line is used, it should be reserved for communities of general interest that are located on or immediately adjacent to the route or for major traffic generators along the route.

Both Long Lake and Raquette Lake are “major traffic generators” at least in the summer months, as two bustling summer communities with lakes, recreation, lodging, dining, summer camps and more.  (it’s all relative – compared to the NY/NJ metro area – it is not a traffic generator – which is just another reason to come visit of course!)  

The third, or bottom line, shall contain the name and distance to a control city (if any) that has national significance for travelers using the route.

Well one could argue a visit to Raquette Lake has national significance as it is the former summer home of the Railroad Titans JP Morgan, William West Durant and the birthplace of the word, “Vacation.”  Long Lake has national significance because we have one of two seaplane bases remaining in all of the Adirondacks and the Oldest Operating Hotel in the Adirondacks. (Ok, maybe I’m reaching on that one)  We think Long Lake is pretty special.  There was a survivor from the Titanic that summered here and Don Rickles worked at the Sagamore Hotel as a caddy for the Sabattis Golf Course.  Isn’t Don Rickles a national treasure?  Do you even know who Don Rickles is?  But I digress.

Signing the road is a process, and not sure we’ll ever see Long Lake and Raquette Lake listed more frequently, even though we’d like to be included.  Not going to lie, sometimes it feels like we’re the last kids being picked for the kickball team.

If you want to read up on signing the road, Here’s a link I found.

Written by Alexandra Roalsvig.  Alex is a Long Lake native (sort of, her grand-parents met in Long Lake in 1927 so there is a critical on-going debate defining the word “native” and the final conclusion is that grandchildren of  summer visitors who fell in love because of meeting in Long Lake does not constitute being native)  But Alex does consider herself “local” as she was born and raised here,  started Kindergarten in Long Lake, graduated in a class of 12 from high school in Long Lake, attended college and moved to NYC to work 17 years on the CBS daytime drama, As The World Turns.  She has been the Director of Parks, Recreation & Tourism of Long Lake since 2009, following in her mother’s footsteps. (thanks Mom)  She’s really obsessed with road signs and would LOVE to see Long Lake and Raquette Lake listed on the I-87 Northway AND on roadsigns at least 40 miles away from our communities…  #hopesanddreams #homespun


So when you travel up the Northway on route 87, look for the signs for the Adirondacks and see if you can spot any wayfinding to Long Lake and Raquette Lake that doesn’t happen to be in your wayfinding ap on your phone and let me know. Take a picture and post on our social media pages.  We’d love to see it!

This is the real sign.  The 2nd sign after the 1st sign which is the control sign.  Because the signage rules require two desintation signs when there are more than three destinations to be listed.  

Here you can go South, North and East… but west.. is totally out of the picture. We have 28, 28N and 30.  

Long Lake