Do You Know Benton MacKaye?

Do you know Benton MacKaye?  He’s made my retirement better, along with thousands of others.

Even though he’s dead.

Benton MacKaye
Benton MacKaye has made retirement better for many folks, even though he's dead. Today, we explain how. Click To Tweet

We’re going to look at this interesting man, and discuss 4 ways Benton MacKaye (rhymes with eye, not with kay) has improved retirement for me and thousands of others.


Who Was Benton MacKaye

Benton MacKaye was a true visionary.  He was the man who came up with the concept of The Appalachian Trail.  He wrote a paper in 1921, which I read during my research for this post, titled “An Appalachian Trail – A Project In Regional Planning”.  Throughout this post, I’ll be sharing direct quotes from Mr. MacKaye’s paper which illustrate his vision and how it’s led to a better retirement for thousands of people.

Let’s start with his first quote, where the idea of The Appalachian Trail was first written:

“What is suggested, therefore, is a “long trail” over the full length of the Appalachian skyline, from the highest peak in the north to the highest peak in the south.”

Benton Mackaye

Visionary, right?

Benton MacKaye was focused on “improving leisure”, and he spent a fair amount of his life thinking about it.  He was educated at Harvard University and, after teaching there for a few years he joined the U.S. Forest Service, where his love for conservation flourished.  He “was a strong advocate of balancing human needs and those of nature” (source: Wikipedia), and he helped pioneer the idea of land preservation for recreation.

My retirement is better as a result, and I think of him often as I hike in the wilderness of the National Forests near our “Great” retirement cabin.

Source: www.bmta.org

The Benton MacKaye Trail

Many folks know that The Appalachian Trail (orange dots in the map above) starts on Springer Mountain, GA (only a few miles from where I sit as I type these words in the World HQ of The Retirement Manifesto).  Fewer folks know that another trail starts at the same point, The Benton MacKaye Trail (red line in the map above).

“The BMT” (named in honor of Benton MacKaye) runs 300 miles from Northern Georgia through The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is a haven for those seeking solitude in the mountains.  Unlike the Appalachian Trail, the BMT is a rugged and remote trail, where one can walk all day without seeing another hiker.  It crosses through 8 wilderness areas on its journey North and is often miles from the nearest road.

In his 2002 book, Long Trails of the Southeast, writer and avid hiker Johnny Molloy wrote that the Benton MacKaye Trail “is what I imagine the Appalachian Trail was like many decades ago—a lesser tamed path, steep in places, rough in spots, and still evolving”.

Having hiked portions of The Benton MacKaye trail myself, I appreciate that the atmosphere of “The BMT” is exactly what Benton had in mind when he wrote his paper outlining the concept in 1921:

“It fortunately happens that we have throughout the most densely populated portions of the United
States a fairly continuous belt of under-developed lands. These are contained in the several
ranges which form the Appalachian chain of mountains.”   Benton MacKaya

Last month, I joined the Benton MacKaye Trail Association and took my first organized hike on the Benton MacKaye trail, an 8.6-mile hike up Fowler Mountain.  That hike led to the writing of this post.

I hiked 8.6 miles on the Benton MacKaye Trail. It led to the writing of this post... Click To Tweet

I joined my fellow hikers at 9:00 am on a recent weekday morning (I love retirement!), and we set off down a rugged road in the hike leader’s Toyota pickup truck to the trailhead.  What followed were 4 hours of absolutely beautiful hiking, along a ridgeline to the peak of Fowler Mountain.  We stopped at the top for an enjoyable lunch hauled up the trail in our day packs and returned down the mountain to the waiting vehicles.

Contentment defined.


4 Ways Benton MacKaye Improved Retirement

1. Benton MacKaye Proved The Power Of A Purpose

As mentioned above, Benton MacKaye is credited with coming up with the idea for The Appalachian Trail in his 1921 paper. I read that paper today and came away with a strong sense of his commitment to a Purpose.  His Purpose was to provide folks a “relief from the shackles of commercial civilization”, as outlined in the following quote:

“Would the development of the outdoor community life – as an offset and relief from the various shackles of commercial civilization – be practicable and worth while?”  Benton MacKaye

I can answer unequivocally that the answer to Mr. MacKaye’s question is “Yes”!!  The trail and the community that surrounds it is, indeed, worthwhile and we have him to thank for the beauty that is The Benton MacKaye Trail.  The power of Mr. MacKaye’s Purpose lives on today, and I’m one of many beneficiaries.
An 8.6-mile hike is great for the heart!

2. Benton MacKaye Improved The Quality Of “Leisure”

When I read Mr. MacKay’s original piece, it seemed as though he was talking to those of us who have just achieved retirement. He was concerned about keeping work in perspective, as highlighted by his following quote:

“Industry would come to be seen in its true perspective – as a means in life and not as an end in itself.” Benton MacKaye

As a recent retiree, I appreciate his recognition that work was a means to an end and not an end in itself.  Each of us should seek balance in our lives, and the wilderness trails he’s helped to establish are a great means for us to truly enjoy our leisure time, even if we’re still working.

Benton MacKaye was focused on improving opportunities for leisure. Work is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Click To Tweet

3. He’s Making Us Healthier

One of my primary objectives in retirement is to maintain my health for as long as humanly possible.  It’s important to ensure that we LIVE fully in our retirement years, doing the things that we want to do.  That doesn’t happen by accident, and it’s important to find a way to weave physical fitness into your retirement lifestyle.

Benton MacKaye’s vision has made that possible.  The Appalachian Trail and the thousands of trails around the world which have been inspired by folks with a similar vision are great tools for our pursuit of staying in shape.

There’s just something about hiking in the woods.

Benton was aware of the physical benefits of getting outside and taking a hike, as shown in the following quote from his 1921 paper:

“Second, he notes the possibilities for health and recuperation. The oxygen in the mountain air
along the Appalachian skyline is a natural resource (and a national resource) that radiates to the
heavens its enormous health-giving powers with only a fraction of a percent utilized for human
rehabilitation. Here is a resource that could save thousands of lives.”  Benton MacKaye

In fact, there are even Doctors who are now prescribing folks to take a hike!  Seems our friend Benton was on to something 98 years ago.  No doubt about it – hiking is good for you!

Get Out There And Take A Hike!

Me and some new friends on the Benton MacKaye Trail

4. He’s Helping Us Make New Friends

I didn’t know the 5 people behind me in the picture above until I took my recent hike on the Benton MacKaye Trail.  Now, I consider them “hiking friends”.  They’re members of the hiking group that I’m now a member of, and I’ll be seeing them frequently on hikes together.  The tall guy on the right is named Ken, and he’s my new hero.  He hikes ~3-4 times per week after retiring as a professor in Florida. The guy in the orange hat is Tom, and he was the leader of our hike.  We had an ironic mutual connection to my hometown in Michigan. He’s as fit as most 40-year-olds, in spite of having 25+ years on his body. These guys are living examples of the benefits of regular exercise and put this 55-year-old to shame on the climb up Fowler Mountain.  They’re fit, and they’re great role models for us to follow in our retirements.

There is also a dedicated group of ~25+ members who work on trail maintenance several times a month.  Again, Benton proved to be visionary with his idea of having “a local group of people” responsible for maintaining the trail”

Each section should be in the immediate charge of a local
group of people.

In addition to making friends, there’s an opportunity to learn.  As you may know, I’ve always enjoyed using my chainsaw in the woods around our cabin.  Well, in order to use my chainsaw for trail maintenance on the BMT, there’s a mandatory two-day chainsaw training course, which is the same that federal employees who work in the forest service are required to take.  Probably a good idea to learn more about chainsaw safety, and an added benefit to joining the BMT hiking club!


Conclusion

If you don’t know Benton MacKaye, you can “find” him on any of the trails near your home.  His spirit lives on in the thousands of hiking clubs across the country.  Do yourself a favor, and Google “hiking trails near me”.  Do the same for hiking clubs.

The benefits are too significant to ignore.  It’s a fun way to stay in shape, and you may make some friends along the way.

If you’re lucky, you may understand what Benton MacKaye had in mind in the process.

Do yourself a favor.

Get Outside And Take A Hike.

24 comments

  1. There’s just something about hiking in the woods.

    Now this is my kinda post!! Awesome Fritz. I’ve section hiked about 550 miles of the AT including climbing Katahdin, so only 1600 left to go. I might as well start over and just do a through hike. It’s on my bucket list.

    Keep getting out there man, winter hiking is the best!

    1. Dave, hikers unite! Cool that you’ve section hiked 550 miles, impressive! I’d love to do a through hike, but I just can’t see being away from home, my wife and the dogs for the 5 months required to do it. You may enjoy the story of my friend, Kirk, who through hiked it a few years back. He also did the Pacific Crest Trail (completed it in 2018), and is planning on starting the Continental Divide Trail this year. He’s going for the Triple Crown, an achievement less than 500 people have ever accomplished!

  2. What a great post and thanks for more of the back story on Benton! When I was 19 I hiked the Northern part of the AT from Maine thru Virginia before I went back to life. It was awesome! Lot of great memories on that trail and it’s where I figured out the path I wanted to take my life on.
    I’m excited I have 26 miles of trails only 4 minutes from my house. Heading out this morning for another hike.

    1. I loved your Tweet of your hike yesterday. You’re fortunate to have 26 MILES (!!) so close to home. We have a huge forest behind our house, with miles of entirely private trails which I walk every morning and evening with our 4 dogs. Not much better than being in the woods!

  3. Another great post, I love the BMT and someday look forward to joining the gang on some trail maintenance. You are truly an inspiration and your getting around to it all. Well done

    1. KIRK!! My hiking hero, I just mentioned you above in my response to Dave@AccidentalFIRE. Good luck on the Continental Divide Trail this year! Great seeing you and Mona yesterday, we treasure our time with you! Don’t forget to pack the hotdogs in your pocket. Smiles.

  4. Great post. Where we live in New Jersey we have access to the AT along with other great state and local trails. I am fortunate to have a 3 mile wooded trail next door to the house and hike it regularly.

    Thanks to Benton MacKaye and all others who support our countries trail systems. Agree with you Fritz, let’s go outdoors and enjoy a hike.

    1. Benton was, indeed, a visionary. You’re benefiting as a result. Amazing to think that in the heavily populated NE corridor, there’s access to such beautiful wilderness. You’re fortunate to have a trail next to your house, indeed (BTW, that’s now a criteria for us whenever we’re house hunting, couldn’t live without a nearby trail at this stage in my life)!

  5. Thank you for the excellent post about exercise, fresh air, and friendships. My employer has a wellness grant and we encourage hiking/walking during our lunch hour to meet our 10k step goals per day (with monetary motivation). Seven years ago I was overweight and not motivated; the wellness grant got me started. Started hiking/walking every day and after losing 40 lbs, it is a habit I continue to do ever single day. Fortunately my husband is an avid hiker and can keep up with me. We climbed a volcano in Chile a year ago.

    Cannot agree with your post more about staying active. I’m three years away from retirement and plan to keep up the hiking – it really clears the mind and helps keep me focused and balanced.

    1. What an inspiring story, Deborah. Losing 40 lbs, and climbing a volcano. Kudos to your employer for finding a way to get employees motivated to do the right thing! More importantly, kudos to you for getting motivated and sticking with it! A great testimony to the power of exercise, in whatever form you find it.

  6. Good post!

    Post more ideas for those of us that are newly retired along with your post to help people move toward retirement.

    Thanks

  7. Maybe it was Benton MacKaye who first coined the term “Recreational Employment”! I tell you, hiking is one of my new favorites as I find things to try over the years outside the cubicle box. I had never heard of him before, so I enjoyed reading this. Being a west-coast resident, I’m more of a Sierras gal myself. But, my husband and I visited friends in Connecticut a couple years ago and one of our hikes was on the AT. It was a thrill to meet a couple of hikers that had started in Maine and were heading south. That was mid-October too. Young folks, who were on a mini-retirement. Maybe Benton MacKaye also invented that!

    1. The Sierras are awesome. Kirk (see comments above) finished the Pacific Crest Trail last summer, he was fortunate to hike through your gorgeous neck of the woods. Not sure if Benton invented the term, but I’m sure he’d agree with the concept of Recreational Employment!

  8. Another awesome post…and so happy to learn more about the trail! Looking forward to joining the group when we are back up in north GA this summer for a few months. Just returned from a walk in our FL neighborhood…even though the weather is beautiful…just not the same as a hike in the woods. Yes….going on 2 years of early retirement next month…and “health is wealth” is foremost in my mind everyday to be active. Thank you again for continuing to write informative and enjoyable posts!

    1. That would be awesome if we ended up hiking together! Keep me posted, let’s try to get ourselves on the same BMTA hike (we may be on The Great American Road Trip, leaving mid-May returning mid-August, I’ll be writing about it in a future post).

      “Health Is Wealth”, indeed!

  9. Keep on hiking or Sauntering as John Muir preferred. Ii used to do a lot of backpacking in N. Ga, NC and Tn, but now at 81 just day hikes ( although I did an overnight a few years ago on Mr. LeConte , stayed at the Lodge.) Yesterday Hiked, Sauntered or walked (take your pick) about 2 mile on the Laurel ridge trail In nearby Smithgall Woods State Park. Doing that once or twice a month. Now I’m about to go down in the woods behind our house and clear some limbs and downed trees on the trails I have made there on our property.

    1. You’re my hero, Curtis. You know that, right? Jackie and I have often talked about how yours is the example of a life (and retirement) well lived. Also, a living example of the health benefits of living a life “outside”. I’m proud to call you a friend.

      1. The feeling is mutual Fritz, I have admired you since 1988 for your outlook and the way you have conducted your life professionally and personally.

  10. Hi Fritz!
    Love this blog post, as hiking is near and dear to my heart. My husband and I met on a backpacking weekend with the Single Hikers of Atlanta hiking club 11 years ago. The hike to Blood Mountain was the best hike of my life and continues to provide many benefits. 😊

    Our daughter and her dog hiked the entire AT this past summer. It was exciting and fun to support her, keep tabs on her journey and celebrate her accomplishment. She is pretty much a rockstar in my eyes.

    I’ve never hiked the BMT even though it’s close by, will have to join the club upon retirement next month and join in on some weekday hikes. I love hiking, it’s always been my number 1 favorite exercise.

    Best-
    Susan

  11. Colliding worlds. I read about personal finance as a hobby and found your blog through POF about a year ago. I also read about Benton MacKaye. We are retiring to western NC eventually and the most remote part of trail is “behind” us straight up to TN line so not sure I will access that way. But have toyed with idea of joining the BMT club once arrive. So glad you had such a great first hike.

    1. PoF is a friend of mine, cool that you found me through his blog! You’ll love retirement in Western NC! (Our retirement cabin is just 10 miles South of the TN/NC/GA border). You’re fortunate to have access to the trail behind you, you’ll have to work on a small access trail as a retirement challenge! Hope to meet you soon on a BMTA hike!

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