Trails Benton MacKaye Appalachian Trail

Benton MacKaye National Scenic Trail bill refiled in U.S. House

[Updated: 5/29/2023]

In a post published exactly a year ago, I reported on the introduction of a bill “in the U.S. House of Representatives to designate the existing 287-mile Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) as a National Scenic Trail, as defined and provided in the National Trails System Act.” That 2022 bill never received a hearing in the House Committee on Natural Resources, to which it had been assigned. It therefore died with the expiration of the 117th Congress after the November 2022 election.

Representative Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, along with five co-sponsors, on May 25 filed in the 118th Congress a new bill, H.R. 3683, which was again assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources. The bill’s co-sponsors are Rep. Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann [R-TN-3], Rep. “Chuck” Edwards [R-NC], Rep. Scott DesJarlais [R-TN-4], Rep. Lucy McBath [D-GA], and Rep David Scott [D-GA-13]. The text for H.R.3683 to “amend the National Trails System Act to designate the Benton MacKaye National Scenic Trail” is available at the website of the Benton MacKaye Trail Association (BMTA). (Thanks to BMTA communications officer Joy Forehand for providing the link.)

The 287-mile-long Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT), depicted in light red on this map, originates at Springer Mountain in northern Georgia, which is also the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT). The BMT traverses federal lands including National Forests and Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 95-percent of its length. The trail crosses and then intersects with the AT again at its northern terminus.

The current bill, like the previous one, acknowledges the many conservation accomplishments of the trail’s namesake, Benton MacKaye (1879-1975), the forester, conservationist, and writer who first proposed the Appalachian Trail in a 1921 article, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.” The BMT parallels and intersects with the southernmost stretch of the Appalachian Trail. BMTA president Ken Cissna emphasizes, though, “that designating the [BMT] as a National Scenic Trail honors the Trail itself, honors the hikers who are going to be hiking it, and honors the work of the volunteers over 40 years who have built and maintained the trail.” 

The proposed legislation, Representative Cohen explained in a recent press release, “would designate a 287-mile trail linking Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina as a National Scenic Trail. The trail which crosses mountains and valleys and passes alongside streams and waterfalls is on federal land for 95 percent of its length and would be administered by the U.S. Forest Service.”

The proposal to seek National Scenic Trail status for the southern Appalachian trail has been vigorously promoted by the non-profit, volunteer Benton MacKaye Trail Association (BMTA), which has worked to create and maintain the mountain footpath for more than forty years. “The Benton MacKaye Trail provides an exceptional opportunity for tens of thousands of people to get outdoors every year and experience the stunning beauty of the Southern Appalachian Mountains,” BMTA president Cissna is quoted as saying in Rep. Cohen’s press release. “Designating this trail as our country’s 12th National Scenic Trail will help protect our outdoor heritage for future generations, support local economies, and provide needed recreation opportunities for long-distance hikers and families. It would accomplish all this with no added cost to taxpayers. We are grateful to Congressmen Cohen and Fleischmann for their work to protect this trail which is special to so many people.”

BMTA’s website is a good place to find out more about both the progress of the proposed legislation and ways to support its enactment. ♦