They're springing up all over the valley — red ones, blue ones, pink ones — sprouting from the ground like some exotic plastic grass.
They're called whiskers, and they're used primarily to guide road builders. But they also help mark property boundaries, paths for utility lines and landscaping, among other things.
Whiskers are polyethylene bristles bound by a metal band that can be nailed to stakes or directly into the ground. Unlike the wooden stakes that preceded them, they spring back when run over by heavy equipment.
Terry Simcoe, supervisor at Pacific Paving in Medford, calls them "feather tops."
In road construction, they're used to mark how high the rock should be graded before the asphalt is laid.
And if equipment should accidentally cover up the stake, the whiskers remain visible, Simcoe says.
Dave Midtlyng, vice president of contracting for LTM, says his company relies on whiskers, too. Drivers can see the markers from the grader as they're trimming the rock to the correct elevation, he says.
Though they seem to be multiplying around the valley, whiskers are nothing new.
"They've been around a long time," says Simcoe. "I've been paving 25 years."
One manufacturer of the whiskers, Smi-Carr Inc., says on its Web site (www.smicarr.com) that the company founder, the late Willard D. Carroll, Sr., invented the Stake Chaser® brand Whisker Flag in 1965, "a product that would streamline the road construction and surveying industries forever."
Though available in a rainbow of colors, contractors have their favorite.
"We use red all the time," says Simcoe. "It's easier to see."
Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.