A bipartisan bill led by Congressman Steve Cohen seeks to redesignate the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) as the nation’s 12th National Scenic Trail, a move that would add federal protection and funding to the trail.
THE Benton MacKaye Scenic Trail Act marks the third attempt by Congress to add the BMT to the National Scenic Trails system. Previous attempts to name it National Scenic Trail in 2021 and 2022 have failed.
The officials behind the measure gave various reasons for designating the Benton MacKaye Trail for the program. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee highlighted the trail’s recreational opportunities for residents of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. Cohen focused on the need to protect the natural beauty of the trail, saying, “The Benton MacKaye Trail offers serious hikers and day-trippers a natural wonderland of bucolic hills, valleys, trees, wildlife and of natural beauty.
Previous rebranding attempts have also highlighted the economic benefits of trails like the Pacific Northwest and Arizona trails, which draw visitors from across the country to lesser-known parts of the country.
Named after forestry scientist and trail enthusiast Benton MacKaye, whom most historians credit with first introducing the idea of the Appalachian Trail, the 287.6-mile Benton MacKaye Trail runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia, in Big Creek, Tennessee, straddling parts of Appalachia. Trail along the way. It also passes through some of the most biodiverse temperate forests in the world, protecting dozens of species of trees and wildflowers. With a 93-section section of trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Benton MacKaye Trail is also the longest contiguous trail in the national park.
Want to hike the Benton MacKaye Trail on your own? Get a sample on this short shuttle ride.
To be designated as a National Scenic Trail, potential routes must be 100 miles or longer and functionality: “significant physical characteristics of American regions.” This standard has always been more difficult to meet than the National Recreation Trails (NRT), which aims to provide urban areas with outdoor access. Since National Scenic Trail designations began, the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture have designated more than 1,000 NRTs. In contrast, the entire National Scenic Trail system currently contains only 11 trails. The US government has not added to this list since 2009, when the Obama administration reclassified the Arizona Trail, New England Trail and Pacific Northwest Trails.
Ken Cissna, president of the Benton MacKaye Trail Association, has been a long-time supporter of the trail’s renaming. He says making the BMT a national scenic trail would give his landscape much-needed protection.
“The Benton MacKaye Trail provides an exceptional opportunity for tens of thousands of people to get out each year and experience the breathtaking beauty of the southern Appalachians,” Cissna said. “Designating this trail as our nation’s 12th National Scenic Trail will help protect our outdoor heritage for future generations, support local economies, and provide much-needed recreational opportunities for long-distance hikers and families.” This would accomplish all of this at no additional cost to taxpayers. According to Cissna, the new trail classification could boost recreational travel while protecting the trail’s history, with relatively few downsides
In addition to expanding trail access in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee, advocates of the Benton MacKaye Trail’s redesignation say it could help alleviate some of the traffic on more popular trails like the Trail. of the Appalachians, reducing erosion and overuse problems. .
“I think Benton MacKaye would have been happy with the track today,” Cissna said. “Striking vistas, tumbling waterfalls, the iconic Swinging Bridge, and pleasantly secluded forest trails that meander through six wilderness areas plus Great Smoky Mountains National Park (which is run as a wilderness) make Benton MacKaye Trail an ideal candidate for designation as a National Scenic Trail.
The bill is currently before the House Natural Resources Committee.