PT. 7 (MP 612.9): A sign you should stop in Watson Lake

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WATSON LAKE, British Columbia (KTUU) You can tell when you’re driving into Watson Lake.

You’re suddenly greeted by rows of flags, welcoming you to the community, but what really catches your eye is what looks like a row of road signs. You might mistake it for a stop where you can snap a quick picture and be on the way.

The Watson Lake Signpost is deceiving. It’s much, much bigger than that.

But how big? “It’s all a great guess,” explained Lelah Bruce, a supervisor with the Signpost Forest Visitor’s Center. Sometimes signs fall. They get moved. Old posts get new signs added. “So we estimate our signs,” Bruce told me.

What’s a realistic guess? The visitor’s center estimates the forest is currently home to 85,000 signs.

“I couldn’t believe it. Drove in. We had to stop here. This is crazy, you know?,” Hugo Schwandt said from the seat of his motorcycle. “Crazy. It's so many,” he added.

Schwandt also drove the highway in the 1970's. “There was maybe two signposts here full of maybe 30 or so signs at that time,” he remembered. “Hard to believe all the people that come.”

Like many of the main attractions along the highway, the signpost forest traces its roots all the way back to construction of the Alaska Highway. It started with an injured, homesick soldier who was asked to fix a sign post.

After putting the official directional signs up, he added his own hometown, Danville, Illinois to the post. Bruce said, “it looks like everybody thought it was a good idea.”

Now, the forest's visitors center says it gets a thousand new signs a year. “Winter, summer, morning, noon and night,” according to Bruce.

If you’re planning on passing through, here are some tips:

• Give yourself a few hours
You’ll probably want to spend more time here than just a few minutes. Make sure you have enough time to really take it all in.

• Check out the visitors center
The forest is so big, you could miss the visitors center. Make your way inside to find out more about the history and to see a replica of the original sign that started the whole thing.

• Bring a sign (but you don’t have to)
There are materials in the visitor’s center you can use, but many people also bring professionally-made signs. There are also more than a few shoes, bras, and toilet seats, so you’re welcome to hang what ever you have lying around your car or motorhome.

• Pick a good spot
The visitors center doesn’t recommend hanging signs on trees. Once the trees die, the signs are hung somewhere else, and if you come back, they are really difficult to find.

• Take a picture
It might be the only way you’ll remember where your sign is hung if you want to come back and check it out later.