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Panel honored for standardizing forest signs

Phil Archuletta holds a Forest Service sign at his shop in Mountainair. Archuletta has been manufacturing Forest Service signs since the 1970s, and was on a committee that standardized the shape, colors and material of Forest Service signs across the country. (Courtesy of Jodie Gustin)

If you’ve driven by a Forest Service road sign in the southwest United States, chances are it was made by Phil Archuletta.

He was working at Ojo Caliente Craftsmen in the early 1970s when the Forest Service first asked the business to manufacture road signs.

“I thought it would just be a contract for the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests, but it turned out to be the entire Region 3 of New Mexico and Arizona,” Archuletta said. “Before I knew it, I was filling purchase orders from 12 different forests. It helped create a lot of jobs for that rural community.”

Archuletta was the only non-government representative on a committee that worked from 1973 to 1988 to standardize the shape, colors and material of Forest Service signs across the country.

Now U.S. Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen has officially recognized the group for “making a lasting shift” in the sign program.

“The collaborative work of the collective to improve the quality and consistency of Forest Service signs is a noteworthy accomplishment, whose positive impact still benefits the Agency forty years later – a legacy we are proud of,” Christiansen wrote in a July 25 letter.

The group tested signs from Hopewell Lake, New Mexico, to Truckee, California, to see which materials could do the job of guiding travelers.

“Forest signs can get covered up with 10 feet of snow,” Archuletta said. “So we would put up a sign in the spring or summer, then rangers would go back later and all the material would be on the forest floor. We had to test sign materials to see what worked and what didn’t.”

The result was a national standard for Forest Service signage that still holds today.

Phil Archuletta and a U.S. Forest Service team test road sign materials in Washington in 1980. (Courtesy Phil Archuletta)

Archuletta now runs P&M Signs in Mountainair. It’s one of only a handful of corporations with a license to print the image of Smokey Bear.

“A lot of those signs built in the ’70s and ’80s are still guiding traffic today, even though they were only supposed to last 10 to 15 years,” he said.

Other committee members recognized by Chief Christiansen are Tom Nettleton, Dick Alexander, Stan Versan, Paul Weaver, John Barksdale, Milt Taylor, Richard Almgren, John Wagner, Lester Pence, Doug Morrison, Bob Hartman, Jerome A. Miles and Max Peterson.

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