Good Boundaries Make Good Neighbors

North Carolina Purple "No Trespass" Mark
North Carolina Purple “No Trespass” Mark

A while back, I read a Wall Street Journal article (“Some Devoted New Englanders Went for a Stroll in 1651 and Haven’t Stopped Since,” May 23, 2015) about New Hampshire towns complying with a 17th-century law requiring boundaries to be located and reestablished every seven years.

A practice rooted in early English law, all landowners should consider implementing this septennial perambulation into their land management routine.

Why maintain boundaries?

  • Prevention of encroachment. I’ve seen outbuildings, permanent deer stands, shooting lanes, dog kennels, old cars, and garbage heaps across clients’ boundaries.
  • Prevention of trespassing. An established boundary is usually respected.
  • Cost savings. Clearly visible marked boundary lines can translate into reduced fees when forestry work is performed and lowers the risk of costly accidental cutovers.

How to maintain your boundary lines.

locating property irons
Sometimes finding boundaries is slow-going.

Location of boundary corners and centerlines is required before permanent marking can be applied. A forester may or may not be able to find your corners and centerlines, depending on the existing property description (from deed or plat), understory conditions, time elapsed since the last survey, and quality of the “on the ground” marking of that survey. If you have a survey performed, make sure you have your center lines staked and flagged—this will cost a little more but will ensure you can permanently mark your lines. A survey done in conjunction with a timber sale will qualify as a sales expense.

Once you’ve located the boundaries, trees close to the centerlines should be painted (facing in toward the line). The frequency of the marks should be such that you can see from tree to tree, usually every thirty to sixty feet. Where the line passes through a tree, a dot should be painted on both sides of the tree. At corners, a triple mark should be painted facing the corner iron. When boundary marks are applied correctly, they should last a minimum of seven years before needing fresh paint. For land and timber work, a survey does you no good if you can’t locate the lines on the ground. Based on my experience, it is almost a certainty that you will be encroached upon if your boundaries aren’t clearly marked, especially in areas with urban sprawl. And remember, when harvesting timber, close is not good enough. Cutting over the line can lead to costly legal trouble.

Boundary Marking Tips:

  • To make your marks to last, scrape off loose bark before painting with forestry-grade paint—Nelson brand boundary paint is a good choice for this.
  • When removing loose bark (I use an inexpensive Gerber machete to do this), take care not scrape into the live cambium–this may harm the tree and result in poor paint absorption.
  • If you use “No Trespass” signs, don’t fasten them tight to the tree. Leave an inch or so of space. Otherwise, tree diameter growth will pop the signs off the tree in a year or two. An excellent source for quality stock or custom aluminum and plastic signs is Voss Signs (

More Images:

South Carolina painted boundary line
Orange-painted boundary. Note bands facing the centerline.
Properly marked corner iron tree.
Properly marked corner iron tree.
Union County North Carolina boundary encroachment
Encroachment. Had the line been painted, the neighbor’s building would probably not be over the boundary.
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Tim is a forester, real estate agent, and avid outdoorsman. When he is not managing clients’ woodland, you will find him hiking, trail running, reading, or woodworking. Motto: “Never get too comfortable–there is always room for improvement.”