Photo by Marcy Stamper
Trevin Leon, left, designed new road signs that let motorists know when they’re entering the Methow watershed. Leon worked with John Crandall, who said the signs help provide a sense of place.

ILC student designs road signs that help define Methow River experience

By Marcy Stamper

Although a watershed spans a vast area, it’s such an integral part of the landscape that it can actually be invisible.

Three new road signs designed by recent Independent Learning Center (ILC) grad Trevin Leon help remedy that by letting people know they’ve entered the Methow watershed.

The signs were installed in October at the three main portals to the watershed — one at Washington Pass, one just north of Pateros, and one at the Loup Loup summit — from where water drains into the Methow River on its way to the Columbia River.

It’s been at least four years since John Crandall, Methow Monitoring Coordinator for the Methow Restoration Council, first envisioned signs that would inform motorists when they entered the watershed. “It’s important to provide a sense of place to locals and visitors,” he said.

Crandall turned to Sara Mounsey, a teacher at the ILC, to see if any students would be interested. Mounsey immediately thought of Leon, then a senior at the school, both for his artistic talents and his interest in wildlife, she said.

“Trevin is prolific with his drawing. Every day he produces a full sheet of drawings,” typically of animals from this ecosystem, said Mounsey. ILC students do a lot of fieldwork as part of their study of local ecology, she said.

Photo by Marcy Stamper
The signs utilize clean, streamlined design to convey their message at 60 MPH.

Leon’s initial pencil sketches contained the essential elements of the final design — the mountains, the river and a fish. But Leon knew he needed help refining those sketches, since the sign had to convey the complex idea of the watershed in a way that could be grasped at 60 miles an hour.

The group connected Leon with Corin McDonald, creative director of EVRYBDY, to work on the concept and streamline the design for the sign.

McDonald and Leon experimented with different shapes, trying out a circle, a square and a rectangle, and chose a typeface with clean lines that would be crisp and readable, said McDonald.

They ultimately created a computer file for reproduction. For Leon, the project was the first time he had used a computer for graphic design.

Leon said he wanted the sign to suggest the migration of a salmon from the river to the ocean. He often draws from memory and also enjoys animal and landscape photography. For this project, he researched Northwest Coast Indian art to come up with a suitable style.

“Trevin knew what he was doing,” said McDonald. “We didn’t change much, except to simplify it.”

The colors they chose — rust for the mountains, two shades of gray for the fish and border, and a pleasing cerulean blue for the river — were inspired in part by the new Methow Monument in Pateros.

It was up to Crandall to approach the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to get permission for the signs. “Becky Jordan, with WSDOT in Wenatchee, was super-supportive and excited,” and helped choose the locations, he said.

Even though signs like this are unusual, WSDOT officials readily agreed to the idea, said Jordan, traffic operations engineer for WSDOT’s North Central Region. Most non-official highway signs denote statewide scenic routes, she said.

The agency provided guidance to be sure that the typeface, number of words and the colors wouldn’t pose a distraction or safety hazard, said Jordan.

Although Leon finished the artwork for the sign before he graduated, it took a while to print the 5-foot-by-4-foot metal signs. Grants from the Washington Department of Ecology and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to the Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation, for outreach and education, paid for production and installation of the signs.

Since graduation, Leon has been taking photos and reading about science while working and preparing to take classes at Wenatchee Valley College in the spring.

“He did a wonderful job. I was impressed that they had a high school student helping on this project,” said Jordan.

“It’s a legacy. It started on this piece of scrap paper — and now it’s a professional road sign,” said Crandall.