Congress Introduces Bill To Establish Benton MacKaye National Scenic Trail

Yesterday, U.S. Senators Reverend Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, and Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, introduced legislation to conduct a feasibility study, with the goal of designating the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) as America’s newest National Scenic Trail (NST).

The bipartisan bill is the first step in assessing this 280-mile route that traverses the Appalachian mountains from Georgia’s Springer Mountain to Tennessee and North Carolina. The BMT is known for being the longest trail in the Great Smoky Mountains, meandering 93 miles through this iconic national park. Furthermore, a third of the footpath lies within Wilderness area boundaries. Motorized vehicle access is prohibited, making for a tranquil, remote experience for hikers. 

The BMT also boasts some of the most unique and abundant wildflowers of any temperate climate forest on the planet. Established in 1980, the trail has been protected and maintained by volunteer organization Benton MacKaye Trail Association for decades. However, NST status would further safeguard the trail’s natural resources and improve mobility for visitors traveling through this region.

“More than simply initiating a new federal walking path through our natural environment, this bill is an investment in our nation’s forests and green spaces, a bridge connecting communities, and a powerful catalyst for our rural economies,” said Senator Reverend Warnock in a press release. “By preserving the natural beauty of our landscapes, we help protect the planet for future generations to enjoy.”

In addition to an impactful designation that would protect the southern region’s unique flora and fauna, this induction into the National Trails System would also mean expanded economic impacts for small trail communities in Appalachia. 

“This legislation is a critical step forward in protecting our outdoor heritage for future generations, supporting local economies, and providing needed recreational opportunities for long-distance hikers and families,” stated the Benton MacKaye Trail Association in support of this bill. 

For thru-hikers, this could mean significant improvements in trail management and recreational opportunities along the trail. Upon successful completion of the feasibility study, Congress could designate the Benton MacKaye Trail as the 12th National Scenic Trail since the NST program was established in 1968. This would further promote access to the outdoors for all Americans and connect communities through conservation efforts.

A companion bill, led by Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), is being backed in the House by Representatives Nikema Williams (D-GA), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Chuck Edwards (R-NC), and Scott DesJarlais (R-TN).

Featured image via Sara Leibold

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Comments 1

  • YAM : May 21st

    More wonderful news. Simply cannot have to many trails ! Thrilled to find out.


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