outdoor purple paint blaze.jpg

Purple paint blazes are now a new option warning against trespassing in Pennsylvania. Ignoring them could land you in jail. Sandford Smith/Penn State Extension

Hunters and hikers in Pennsylvania need to be aware of a new color dotting the landscape in Pennsylvania this fall: trees or posts painted with vertical purple blazes.

Since January 2020, trees adorned with vertical purple lines are the new No Trespassing warning. Those familiar paper or plastic Posted or No Hunting signs still have the force of law, but know that the purple blazes now do too. Twelve other states have passed similar laws, starting with Arkansas in 1989.

The Purple Paint Law, as it’s called, was passed by the General Assembly and gives law enforcement, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, authority to investigate trespassing complaints. It also elevates the penalty from simple trespass to “defiant trespass,” which carries enhanced penalties. Defiant trespass can net you up to one year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines. The Game Commission has said it will enforce trespassing “aggressively.”

A 200-mile trip I took last weekend from Lancaster to Potter County indicated landowners and hunt camps are slow to exercise the option. Traditional posted signs remain the warning of choice for now.

As a casual traveler or user of woods, you may debate whether purple paint is less strident on the landscape than a trail of tattered signs. But for the private landowner and law enforcement, the paint option has distinct advantages.

For one thing, the blazes will last longer and are a cheaper way to mark one’s territory. Trespassers have been known to rip down signs so they can claim ignorance or being lost if caught. Shooting at paint hopefully will be less attractive as shooting signs for the heck of it.

Timber companies are happy to see a switch to paint as nails and tacks hammered into trees can damage equipment when the trees are cut or processed. Penn State Extension recommends using latex or tree-marking paint as oil-based paints can slowly seep through tree bark and harm trees.

According to the new law, paint stripes must be at least 8 inches long and at least 1 inch wide. The bottom of the mark must be at least 3 feet above the ground but no more than 5 feet above the ground. Painted marks must be at least 100 feet of each other.

The one exception to trespassing is that a person may go onto a private property to retrieve a hunting dog.

On hunting forums, the purple paint law seems pretty well received. The most persistent complaint is that purple doesn’t show up well in the dark. “I do agree the paint is kind of dumb as going into any area in the dark, the paint is hard to see,” said one hunter, but added, “Otherwise, the issue is knowing where you are and respect landowners.”

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