Here’s one for all you hardcore outdoors folks who’ve been up and down the trail a few times. Name the hunter, angler and outdoor magazine writer who’s been quietly educating Americans about wildlife, conservation and outdoor ethics for more than 60 years.
Since 1946, the soft-spoken, square-jawed veteran outdoorsman Mark Trail has been teaching us about wildlands conservation and game species management through his weekly appearances on the comic strip pages of American newspapers. Created by [Ed Dodd](http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2754/) in 1946 and drawn by Jack Elrod since 1978, today Mark Trail continues to appear in more than 100 U.S. newspapers.
In the comic strip, Mark Trail lives in a house in Lost Forest with his wife, Cherry; Rusty, their adopted son; and Cherry’s father, Doc. These days he typically spends his time tracking and smacking around poachers, drug smugglers and other ne’er-do-wells who pass through Lost Forest.
This week, Elrod, 83, will be honored with the Outstanding Forestry Journalism Award from the Society of American Foresters during the organization’s national convention in Portland, Ore. It will be added to the long list of awards presented to Elrod and his cartoon alter ego.
Elrod was honored in 1988 by President Reagan for his efforts to develop pride in America. The cartoonist has also produced a variety of educational materials for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, Mark Trail is the official spokescharacter for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), making him the voice of the National Weather Service and NOAA Weather Radio.
If, like me, you grew up learning to appreciate woodsmanship and conservation from Mr. Trail via the funnypages, I’ll bet you didn’t know the comic strip has an Outdoor Life connection.
Indeed, Dodd said his character of Mark Trail—originally appearing as a magazine writer and photographer–was loosely based on his association with one-time forest ranger Charles N. Elliot (1906-2000), who served as Outdoor Life’s editor from 1956 to 1974.
Though he’s apparently no longer writing and taking photos, most recently Mark Trail urges readers to “reduce carelessness and abusive activity such as littering, vandalism and theft, and wildlife poaching.”
Some major newspapers have seen fit to cancel the admittedly slow-moving relic of a comic strip in recent years. Often, those papers find themselves besieged by vociferous members of the Mark Trail Fan Club, who refer to themselves as “Trailheads.”
The Trailheads don’t have an annual meeting or Web site, but they do have song. Here’s a verse:
“He can walk into the bushes and bring back lunch
He can knock out all the bad guys with just one punch
If you’ve got evil intentions, then you’d better beware
‘Cause he can tell that you’re a bad guy by your facial hair!”