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The Signpost Forest

by Murray Lundberg

Click on each photo to enlarge it

    One of the most famous of the landmarks along the Alaska Highway was started by a homesick GI in 1942, and is now one of the attractions which make Watson Lake, at Mile 613, a must-stop. And you can even add your own sign to the over 65,000 already there!

Watson Lake's Signpost Forest, on the Alaska Highway
    In 1942, a simple signpost pointing out the distances to various points along the tote road being built was damaged by a bulldozer. Private Carl K. Lindley, serving with the 341st Engineers, was ordered to repair the sign, and decided to personalize the job by adding a sign pointing to his home town, Danville, Illinois. Several other people added directions to their home towns, and the idea has been snowballing ever since.

    The Signpost Forest takes up a couple of acres, with huge new panels being constantly added, snaking through the trees. There are street signs, there are "Welcome To..." signs, there are signatures on dinner plates, there are license plates from around the world - the variety is as broad as people's imagination. Reading the signs and messages can take you on a textual tour of the world for as long as you care to keep reading and walking. Like golf, only less frustrating!!

Watson Lake's Signpost Forest, on the Alaska Highway
    The size of some of the signs is amazing - how on earth do people get a 6x10-foot sign from the German autobahn to Watson Lake?? While many of the signs, including some wonderful examples of folk art, have obviously been created specially for the Forest, others are apparently on "long-term loan" to the Yukon!

    To say that posting signs has become popular with travelers is an understatement - in July 1990, sign number 10,000 was nailed up in a special ceremony by Olen and Anita Walker, of Bryan, Ohio. The official count of signs conducted by the staff at the Visitor Centre in September 2003 showed 51,842 signs and by September 2008 it had reached 65,164 signs! Each year, between 2,500 and 4,000 new signs are being added to the collection.

    Watson Lake as it exists today is one of the Yukon's newest towns, as well as the third largest (after Whitehorse and Dawson), with a population of 1,561 as of June 2009. Not until the Alaska Highway was opened to public travel in 1948 did the town along the highway start to develop. Prior to that time, the main activity was related to the military airport, a couple of miles to the northwest.

    The Signpost Forest may be Watson Lake's most famous attraction, but there is lots more to see and do. The Visitor Centre has a good display describing the building of the Alaska Highway, and on a stand outside is a full-size replica of a Bell P-39 Airacobra, thousands of which were ferried through Watson Lake on their way to Russia. The Northern Lights Centre, located across the highway from the Signpost Forest, was the first theatre in the world to use a complex new type of "virtual reality" projection system. The display, projected on a 50-foot dome, brings the colour and motions of the Aurora Borealis to life for summer visitors.

    If you plan on spending some time in Watson Lake, there are several hotels and motels, an RV park, a large campground on Watson Lake itself, a great waterslide at Lucky Lake Park, nature paths at Wye Lake Park, and golfing 6 miles north of town.

    For further information, you can reach the Watson Lake Visitor Centre at 1-867-536-7469. And, of course, you're always welcome to send questions or comments to me.

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