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  • Writer's pictureTim Cartner, RF

Good Boundaries Make Good Neighbors

Marked property boundary with no trespass sign
In North and South Carolina, a vertical purple mark means "No Trespass." The purple mark protects against hunting, trapping, and fishing trespassers. You'll still need to put up signs for other types of trespassing.

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 boundary line 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.

Property boundary encroachment
This neighbor place his outbuilding over the property boundary
  • Prevention of trespassing. An established boundary is usually respected.

painted property boundary line
Painted marks facing in toward the boundary line.

  • Cost savings. Clearly visible marked boundary lines can translate into reduced fees when forestry work is performed, lowering the risk of costly accidental cutovers.

How to maintain your boundary lines

Locating 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, the time elapsed since the last survey, and the quality of that survey's “on the ground” marking. 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.

Property boundary corner stake
Sometimes finding property corners is slow-going.

Once you’ve located the boundaries, paint the trees close to the centerlines (facing the line). The marks' frequency should be such that you can see from tree to tree, usually every thirty to sixty feet. Where the line passes through a tree, paint a dot on both sides of the tree. At corners, make a triple mark facing the corner iron.

Property corner iron
Paint a triple mark facing property corner irons

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 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 last, scrape off loose bark before painting with forestry-grade paint—Nelson brand boundary paint is a quality choice.

  • When removing loose bark (I use an inexpensive Gerber machete), take care not to scrape into the live cambium–this may harm the tree and result in poor paint absorption.

  • If you use “No Trespass” signs, don’t nail or screw 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 few years. A decking screw with a washer is an excellent way to hang your signs—you can back the screw out when the sign gets tight. An excellent source for quality stock or custom aluminum and plastic signs is Voss Signs ( The plastic signs are relatively inexpensive, and I've found that they hold up surprisingly well. I have signs on tracts over a decade old and still going strong.


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