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Marking With Flagging Or Paint?


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I assume that most regular benchmarkers have had the experience of arriving in the general area to find flagging (brightly colored tape), colored spray paint or stakes near the target benchmark.


I presume that the purpose is to aid the next surveyor who comes looking for the mark.


I've wondered if we shouldn't be doing the same thing: tying some flagging around nearby utility poles, trees or guard rails, or spray painting the concrete monument, culvert, bridge abutment, etc., in which a disk is set.


Given our lack of official standing, there may be legal issues involved. But that aside, is this something that the professional surveying community would regard as a public service?


-ArtMan- wonders....

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I picked up a roll of pink marking ribbon at Home Depot, and have started "refreshing" old flags on fences, poles etc when I find a mark. Many times, there are signs of marking ribbon there, but it has been degraded by heat and time, so I simply "tie one on" adjacent to the existing flag. I haven't made any other more permanent marks, and don't intend to, because it's not my property and I'm not a professional surveyor. When I'm hunting a mark, I will often use stake flags for visualization points, but those come with me when I finish.

Edited by RACooper
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Maybe it's just the climate or custom here (SoCal), but I haven't seen any flags (colored ribbons, tapes, etc.) in my 50+ BM's found / searched for around here. Near SOME (not all) in wilderness areas, we find the large (10 ft X 10 ft) white plastic X's laid out flat on the ground. We believe these are / were used in aerial mapping to register the photos. I think there was a thread about those here.... In any case, I think those "white X's" are temporary, just for that set of aerial pics, and I wouldn't "renew them". Will watch for flags, but none so far. Maybe a few stakes, but no flags.


edited "flags etc." , and a typo.

Edited by Klemmer
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Clarifying flagging: not flags, but brightly-colored tape, an inch or so in width, tied around trees or poles, nailed to the ground or otherwise affixed in the area of a benchmark to draw attention to the mark. Not to be confused with flags: Stars and Stripes, Union Jacks, etc.


See some examples or see HV9664 for photos of flagging in real-life use (especially the nail in tree closeup).

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So far, no professional surveyors have weighed in, but I'll put in my 2¢ anyway. I mark nothing. If I find a mark after removing a half inch of dirt, I usually rebury it. Instead, I take pictures and give measurements to the mark if needed.


I'm certainly willing to change my ways and perhaps add a bit of ribbon if the 'pro's come in on this thread saying they need extra marking. I will not do any spraypainting, however. To me, spraypainting streets, curbs, sidewalks is simply vandalsim unless done VERY discreetly. If I can find the mark, so can a surveyor.


Since I've been benchmark hunting, I see loads of surveors' spraypaint handiwork all over the place in large lettering and I think in a few cases they're overdoing it by quite a bit. A one-inch arrow should be sufficient.


Most of my benchmark hunting is in cities and suburbs, and there's enough problem with vandalism without surveyors adding to it with unncecessary amounts of paint.

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I will, on rare occasion, refresh the (pink tape) flagging that indicates the route to a mark that is reachable only by bushwhacking (or, "packing" as it is used in several official histories I've seen). To aid in subsequent recovery of all other marks, I prefer to expand the word-picture of the official history, if needed.

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I believe the flagging that you are refering to is from a recent surveying project. We have found it several times in the past and with in six months there is no sign that it was there. We have only found it where they were surveying the area to widen a highway.


I would not hang new flagging because the NGS would deliberately place the witness post away from some marks to reduce the risk of vandals. At least, so I'm told.


There was one incident where a surveyor prehung some flagging a week or two prior to starting a project and some "city" workers went out with a backhoe and started digging where he had hung the flagging. They cut through some telephone lines in the process. They were a couple of blocks away from where they were supposed to be digging.


I would say it is probably best not to hang anything or mark it in any way.


Just my opinion.



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While I am out benchmarking for fun; I do not leave any signs that I have been to a mark except that I will leave the benchmark uncovered if I had to dig to find it.


At times our crews will need to come back to the same controlling point for further GPS occupations or levels. If a mark will be reoccupied we will leave a lathe or stake with ribbon and some identifying markings on the stake or lathe. We vary rarily will paint NGS marks, the paint will only need to be cleaned off later to make reading the monument or getting a more accurate level reading.


One Surveyors' opinion.

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The paint, flagging, lath, and other expendible survey items that a benchmarker might find near a mark while out hunting are usually intended to be temporary identifiers, not as permanent features such as a witness post. They are usually only intended to survive through the course of a particular project. Sometimes, the survey crews will pick up their lath and flagging when it is no longer necessary, but most times it is just left behind.


For instance, most times at the beginning of an engineering or construction project, the survey crews are first on site, whether that site is a small house lot or a road or canal project many miles long. One of the first things they establish is their survey control network for the project. The points in the control network are identified and made available to the other survey crews, contractors, sub-contractors, and anyone else who may be working on the project and are clearly marked and identified on the ground so they can be easily found and accessed.


Another instance might be that a municipality is working (and adjusting) on their benchmark network. One survey crew might have the task of finding the marks, and another crew might have the task of measuring to the mark, using GPS or other conventional means. The first crew would most likely 'brighten up' the found marks using the flagging and paint so the other crew does not have to spend any time looking for the mark.


Also, in my area (central California) surveyors don't paint or tie flagging on trees to identify a mark. It's usually done with lath and flagging near the mark or with ground pins near the mark. Flagging on a tree identifies the tree for something whether it be trimmed by or completely cut down.


Of course, these are 'what if' situations; the only person that would really know the meaning of any paint, flagging, lath, and other survey items near a benchmark would be the person who put it there.


A benchmark hunter who adds new flagging or paint to a mark probably would not be doing any harm. As far as I know, there are no laws forbidding such actions, except for graffiti and vandalism ordinances most likely. I would imagine that you could consider it a cache trade, such as 'Took nothing, Left flagging!' Adding flagging to a mark would most likely help other benchmarkers and the general public find the marks more than anything else. But, at the same time, adding new flagging and paint probably would not be helping either. Not helping surveyors particularly anyway. Most surveyors who spend a great deal of their career in one area or region know where the marks are, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas. Also, surveyors are usually fairly adept at finding marks that were set by other surveyors, even when they're out of their local area. (It's a Zen thing.) I can say that I doubt that any surveyor would be offended to find flagging left by a benchmarker. It wouldn't bother me.

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In some cases the spray painted lines or marks are used to locate buried utilities. If your excavating, drilling soil borings, installing wells, or even planting a tree, the last thing you want to encounter is a buried utility. Hitting a buried powerline can get someone killed. Hitting a fiber optic line can cost you $250,000 or more each day, not to mention all the lawsuits from people losing business because they lose phone service. Markings for buried utilities should be anything but discreet. The not-so-secret code for buried utilities is:


Red (or magenta or pink) = power

Yellow = gas or petroleum product or sometimes steam in the big cities

Blue = water

Orange = phone, fiber optic, CATV or any other communication lines

Green = sewer or storm drain


Surveyor's marks or locate requests are generally white. Surveyors use a lot of orange, too.

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I've seen pink, orange, and green used to mark survey points. Orange wins by a wide margin.


As was said, the markings are meant to be temporary. For all intents and purposes they are litter once the project is over. Refreshing them would just add more litter to the projects track record. I'd leave it alone neither taking down old markings, nor adding new ones.

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Pink is the color to mark survey control. The problem is some folks go a bit overboard and walk a fine line between being helpful and littering. Remember that flagging is in most cases not biodegradable. The longer lasting marking paints have a solvent base. I'm a geodetic surveyor and kind of new to this type of benchmark hunting but I thought the goal was the hunt and not a drive by find. To recover a very old monument that was set generations ago by wit and description is fun. Walking right up on a monument that Helen Keller could find is less than challenging and makes the area look like crap.


my 2 pennies



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