Senators Reverend Warnock, Tillis Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Establish National Scenic Trail Connecting Southern States

The bipartisan Benton MacKaye National Scenic Trail Feasibility Study Act of 2024 would authorize review of the regionally renowned trail to be designated a National Scenic Trail

The legislation is first step toward granting federal designation of nearly 300-mile-long walking path along the Appalachian Mountains that connects Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina 

Legislation is being led in the House by Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-TN-09) and Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN-03)

Bill follows recent conservation efforts from Senator Warnock, including introducing legislation to establish Georgia’s 1st National Park and Preserve 

Senator Reverend Warnock: “By preserving the natural beauty of our landscapes, we invest in the endurance of our environment to pass along a world for future generations to enjoy. I am proud to work with Senator Tillis on this bipartisan legislation”

ICYMI from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: HAPPY TRAILS – Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Atlanta, joined Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina on Thursday to introduce bipartisan legislation that could pave the way toward expanding protections for a popular hiking trail

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the bipartisan Benton MacKaye National Scenic Trail Feasibility Study Act of 2024, a key step towards designating the Benton MacKaye Trail as a National Scenic Trail (NST) within the National Trails System. The Benton MacKaye Trail is a nearly 300-mile-long route that begins at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and spans over 80 miles in the state and an additional 200 miles in Tennessee and North Carolina. The trail has been protected and maintained by the volunteer organization the Benton MacKaye Trail Association since 1980. The legislation would authorize a mandatory study of the trail as a first step towards receiving an NST designation. Upon completion of the feasibility study, Congress may then add the trail to the National Trails System, ultimately establishing a new, federally protected footpath that will improve mobility for Americans traveling in and between Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. A companion bill is being led in the House by Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-TN-09) and Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN-03) and is cosponsored by Representatives Nikema Williams (D-GA-05), Lucy McBath (D-GA-07), Chuck Edwards (R-NC-11), and Scott DesJarlais (R-TN-04).

“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. “By preserving the natural beauty of our landscapes, we help protect the planet for future generations to enjoy. I am proud to work with Senator Tillis on this bipartisan legislation and look forward to getting it done.”

“I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Warnock to lay the groundwork for designating a new National Scenic Trail along the Appalachian Mountains connecting Georgia, Tennessee, and my home state of North Carolina,” said Senator Tillis. “The Benton MacKaye Trail will foster economic development in our rural communities and create the opportunity for thousands to enjoy the natural beauty of the region.”  

“The Benton MacKaye Trail provides leisurely walkers and serious hikers a natural wonderland of bucolic hills, valleys, trees, wildlife and natural beauty. I’m proud to be joined by Senators Warnock and Thom Tillis, Representative Chuck Fleischmann, whose district is traversed by the trail, and other members of the Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina delegations in this effort to expand our nation’s portfolio of scenic trails,” said Congressman Steve Cohen.

“I am pleased to work with Congressman Cohen in the House and Senators Warnock and Tillis to lead the bipartisan, bicameral effort to designate the beautiful Benton MacKaye Trail as a National Scenic Trail. The Benton MacKaye Trail is an invaluable part of my district in East Tennessee that thousands of Tennesseans and Americans hike each year, and the trail connects some of the most beautiful and pristine parts of Tennessee with Georgia and North Carolina. The Benton MacKaye Trail deserves to be given a National Scenic Trail designation, and I hope Congress acts quickly to pass this bill and send it to the president for his signature,”
 said Congressman Chuck Fleischmann.

“Preserving our nation’s trails and green spaces is essential for a clean environment for future generations. My eight-year-old, my Carter Cakes, is passionate about protecting our national treasures and hopes to visit all our National Parks. This legislation is a step towards adding the Benton MacKaye Trail to Carter’s list, and I am proud to support federal protections for this trail across Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina,” said Congresswoman Nikema Williams. 

“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 of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina,” said the Benton MacKaye Trail Association. “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. We are grateful to Senator Warnock and Senator Tillis for their work to protect this trail which is special to so many people.”

A National Scenic Trail designation would increase the trail’s value as a recreation destination and help safeguard diverse flora and fauna located along the path. The designation would also attract even more hikers to the region and expand economic impacts for local north Georgia and Appalachian communities. The National Trails System Act of 1968 created the National Trails System to support and promote access to the nation’s outdoor areas and connect communities by utilizing natural resources. National Scenic Trails (NSTs) are routes that showcase significant characteristics of the nation’s natural resources and recreational opportunities. Congress has the authority to establish new NSTs and is responsible for funding trail management. Since 1968, Congress has established 11 NSTs, including the Appalachian NST, which runs through Georgia.