Friday, September 21, 2012

Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT)


The Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) is a backcountry hiking trail, measuring 288 miles (480 km) through the Appalachian mountains of the southeastern United States. It is designed for foot travel in the tradition of the Appalachian Trail (AT), but more primitive and solitary alternative for thru-hikers in the Southern Appalachians.
About 55 miles of the BMT runs through Monroe County, crossing into the south end of the county near Buck Bald. It follows close to Waucheesi Mountain and along high ridge lines on the TN/NC state border, descending to the Bald River near Holly Flats and the Tellico River near the Pheasant Field picnic area . It ascends again from there, approaching the Cherohala Skyway at Mud Gap (where there is a parking area and trailhead kiosk) and skirting the highway for about 3 miles. At Beech Gap there is parking and the opportunity for a walk on a gentle section of the trail, perfect for bird watching and chance encounters with wildlife. The trail continues north through the Unicoi Mountains, passes Big Fodderstack and Little Fodderstack. It exits Monroe County for North Carolina near where Highway 129 crosses the Little Tennessee River.
This hiking trail was created and is maintained by the Benton MacKaye Trail Association and is named for Benton MacKaye (rhymes with sky), co-founder of The Wilderness Society, the man whose vision inspired what is today the Appalachian Trail. In the south, he had selected a more westerly route for his Appalachian mountain trail plan, along the western crest of the Blue Ridge - roughly the route followed today by the BMT. Some of the trail's volunteer maintenance crews are locals from Tellico Plains and surrounding communities.

 There are numerous access points and trailheads along the BMT route creating many options for one-way and loop hikes, and several more in combination with local trails. The Benton MacKaye Trail Guide, by Elizabeth Carter and Richard Harris, is sold at the Cherohala Skyway VIsitors Center and other local establishments, and The National Geographic Map #781 of the Cherokee National Forest - Tellico and Ocoee Rivers covers the trail. The Benton MacKaye Trail Association offers sponsored fun hikes and work trips. 

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