- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

CHURCH HILL, Tenn. (AP) - Officials are hoping color-coded trail markers will help cut down on the number of hikers who have been getting lost in Laurel Run Park in Hawkins County.

The Kingsport Times-News (https://bit.ly/10z1lmm) reports that six times over the past two months, rescuers or law enforcement have been called out to Laurel Run Park for a lost or unaccounted for hiker.

A couple of those calls have resulted in full-fledged searches, and one even included assistance from Kingsport emergency personnel.

The park is located just south of Church Hill along a half mile stretch of the Holston River. It offers access to a network of mountain trails stretching all the way to Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport.

Last week, the Hawkins County Commission’s Parks Committee discussed ways to address the problem of lost hikers.

One suggestion was to add directional signs along the trails. But park manager Joe Lindsey said that had been tried, and that the signs tend to get knocked down or taken.

Ultimately, the committee directed Lindsey to mark trees along the trail with color coded dots.

A few days later Lindsey installed a new sign at the trail entrance telling hikers what each color means.

There’s a waterfall along Laurel Run Creek, a popular destination for hikers. However, it’s off trail, and according to Lindsey, hikers get lost there occasionally.

From now on, blue dots will lead hikers to the waterfall, black dots will lead to the overlook, white dots will lead to Bays Mountain, and green dots will lead back to Laurel Run Park.

The new sign also states: “If you find yourself lost or disoriented, please call 423-357-8110 or 423-7070-5959, or 911. Be Safe.”

Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency director Gary Murrell said trail marking is an improvement, but won’t be a big help to hikers after dark. He said the best solution is to educate hikers.

“If someone is unaccounted for, where are you going to start looking for them,” Murrell said. “Their car might be at Laurel Run, and they may be lost somewhere up in Kingsport. People need to know the trails, they need to know the hazards, and they need to know when it’s time to come out.”

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