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Trail Maintenance

Trail Maintenance

It takes the efforts of many people like you to cut back the overgrowth, clear the blowdowns, dress the treadway and mark the trail so that hikers will enjoy a pleasurable, unencumbered trek on the Benton MacKaye Trail.

While the backbone of the Benton MacKaye Trail Association is the membership, it is the maintainers and Section Maintainers (all those who maintain the trail) who have the greatest impact.

The Work

The Work

To keep the trail open and hiker-friendly, the following work is needed:

  • Repair of the pathway.
  • Cut back brush and annual growth.
  • Remove downed trees with chainsaws (or with crosscut saws in Wilderness areas).
  • Keep water diversions open and free of debris.
  • Keep the trail marked with signs and blazes.
  • Special projects, such as bridge construction / repair as well as building steps with timbers and stones, also are undertaken.

Ways You Can Help

If you are a hiker or outdoor person who would like to give something back, one of the best ways is to attend our monthly work trips. There is a job for everyone!

Sign Up – to receive announcements about work trips and other activities.

Learn More: Volunteer or complete and submit the Volunteer Interest Form and we’ll be in contact.

Read: Trail Maintenance: The Work We Do.

Another option is to become a Section Maintainer by adopting a section of the trail to maintain.

To learn more, read What Are the Requirements of a Section Maintainer? and General Responsibilities of a Section Maintainer

Complete this Volunteer Interest Form and we’ll be in contact with you. Or you can email the GA Maintenance Director or the TN/NC Maintenance Director.

To receive regular notices from Benton MacKaye Trail Association SIGN UP  to receive “News, Updates and Announcements.”

Ways You Can Help

The Work We Do

The Benton MacKaye Trail is an almost 300 mile long hiking trail in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. It extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the northern end of the Smoky Mountains … a large portion of the trail goes through Wilderness.

The trail was constructed and now is maintained by volunteer members of the Benton MacKaye Trail Association.

We welcome everyone who wants to help maintain the BMT and we encourage you to join us on our maintenance trips!

  • What do volunteers do?

    To keep the trail open and hiker-friendly, we might do any of the following on a work day:

    • Repair of the pathway or tread with hoes, Pulaskis, shovels and rakes.
    • Cut back brush and annual growth with swing blades (required in Wilderness Areas) or gas powered brushcutters, loppers and pruning shears.
    • Remove downed trees, (blowdowns) with crosscut saws (in Wilderness Areas) or chainsaws in National Forests.
    • Remove branches and sticks by dragging them off the trail, with rakes or, simply by picking them up and throwing them off the trail. There is a job for everyone!
    • Repair water diversions with rakes, hoes and shovels.
    • Blazing the trail – The trail is marked with white diamond blazes painted on the trees.

    While chainsaw and crosscut saw work requires skilled, certified personnel, most trail work requires simple hard work and even young people can participate.

    If you’re interested in learning how to blaze the trail, contact the Blaze Team Leader.

  • I have no trail maintenance experience. What would I do?

    To start with, you could cut back brush along the trail with loppers or pruning shears. If you are comfortable with a hoe or shovel, you could help repair the path (tread). Our goal is to find the right job for everyone and to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable day.

    You’ll want to watch two videos prepared by the National Forest Service. They are dated but the information shared is relevant today.

    Introduction to Volunteering

    Basic Trail Maintenance

  • I am much more of a backyard gardener and can’t see myself doing this. Is there anything else I can do?

    Absolutely! We need people with basic computer skills to help with record keeping, photographers and people with social media expertise. If you would like to help with special events or work in our booth at a local festival, there is a job for you. We frequently need shuttle drivers as well as volunteers to prepare end of the day snacks or meals for crew members. Go to Volunteer and complete the Volunteer Interest Form. We’ll be in contact with you.

  • What do you like best about trail maintaining? 

    No doubt it’s the camaraderie that you’ll enjoy as member of the trail crew – combined with the feeling of accomplishment when you learn new skills. It’s hard work but it’s healthy and gives you a good workout. Also, it is so satisfying to give back and, as they say, “….leaving a path for generations to follow.”

  • Can young people like teenagers or even younger help out? 

    Yes, we welcome them. They need to agree to follow all safety guidelines. If they do, we’ll definitely keep them busy!

  • What should I bring?

    Bring a daypack, a minimum of two liters of water, a lunch / snacks, gloves and wear good sturdy shoes or hiking boots (mid-height are fine) and long pants.

    The Benton MacKaye Trail Association provides helmets and tools.

  • When are work days scheduled?

    Teams go out the second Saturday of every month in Georgia.

    In Tennessee / North Carolina, we go out on the fourth Saturday of every month. (Except for November and December when the work trip is on the third Saturday due to the holidays).

    The only reason we would cancel or reschedule is: the weather…when safety is an issue.

    For those who are retired and prefer to keep their weekends free for grandkids, etc., weekday work trips frequently are announced on Facebook, Meetup, etc.

  • How would I find out about these work days?

    You can go to Sign Up for news, updates and announcements from the Benton MacKaye Trail Association or:

    Go to Facebook Benton MacKaye Trail Association and “like” and “follow” us.

    Go to Facebook Benton MacKaye Trail Maintenance and “like” and “follow” us.

    Go to Facebook Benton MacKaye Trail Hikers, and click on “+ Join Group” to become a member.

  • How does the Benton MacKaye Trail Association pay for tools, safety gear, materials and training?

    Membership dues and donations help to cover the cost of tool replacement, construction materials, training and other conservation projects on the Benton MacKaye Trail.

    You can become a member today:  $15 for a Student, $15 for a Retiree, $20 for an Individual, $30 for a Family and $50 for a Business / Corporate membership. Use this link: MEMBERSHIP.

  • What are the hours for a work day?

    The work begins between 9:00 and 9:30 AM and usually runs ‘til 3:00 – 5:00 PM, depending on the planned work, the number of volunteers and conditions.

    In Georgia, we commonly meet at a local restaurant for a quick breakfast and some socializing before heading to the trail.

    Due to the remoteness of many sections in Tennessee, folks frequently meet at the trailhead or at a landmark and then carpool in.

  • Who leads these work days?

    Experienced volunteers as well as many certified Crew Leaders. All are certified in First Aid and have hundreds of hours of trail work under their belts. In addition, most are certified by the National Forest Service as crosscut and chainsaw sawyers.

  • If I like this kind of volunteer work how could I get trained?

    The Benton MacKaye Trail Association will assist you in all stages of your training. As Volunteers with the USFS, BMTA members work hand in hand with the Forest Service to obtain training in CPR/First Aid as well as individual certifications in Chainsaw and Crosscut Saw. Certification classes are safety oriented, with both classroom and field work sessions in multi-day programs.

  • What happens after I am certified? 

    In addition to helping out on scheduled work days, you may be assigned to be the primary maintainer for a section of the trail.

  • Would I have to take this training in order to continue volunteering?

    Certainly not. There’s plenty of work — clearing the trail, cleaning waterbars and much, much more.

  • Anything else I should know? 

    Yes! Safety is a priority of every Crew Leader. The entire crew receives a Job Hazard Analysis (what needs to be done and any relevant issues on the trail) as well as a Safety Briefing at the beginning of every work day. You’ll also need to sign a waiver of liability before you start your day’s work.

  • What do I need to do to have my own section to maintain? 

    Begin by reading these two documents.

    What Are The Requirements of a Section Maintainer? And General Responsibilities of a Section Maintainer.

    The documents should answer all your questions. When you are ready to volunteer, contact the GA Maintenance Director or the TN/NC Maintenance Director.


  • I am 60 years old and don’t know if I can keep up with the younger members.

    If you are only 60, you’ll be one of the younger members of any crew. No matter your age or trail experience, there is a job for you. Join us soon!

  • Still have questions?

Monthly Work Trips

What to Expect / What to Bring / What to Wear

On your first trip with us, you may be asked to sign a USFS Volunteer Agreement Form (This depends on where the work trip is being held.) Prior to each work trip, your trip leader will go over the potential hazards you may face on the trip and may ask you to sign or fill in your name on this form as well. We will keep track of your volunteer hours and will report your volunteer hours to the USFS or NPS. As a way of thanking you for your time and effort, the BMTA, USFS or NPS may award you incentives (such as hats or T-shirts) to thank you for your time and effort.

If you have additional questions, contact the GA Maintenance Director or the TN/NC Maintenance Director.

  • Trip Duration

    BMTA Monthly Work Trips generally take up most of the day, usually meeting for breakfast about 8:00 AM, or at the trailhead about 9:00 AM, and depart from the woods between 3:30 — 4:00 PM.

    Part of the pleasure of a work trip is that you get to spend an entire day in the woods!

    Plan on being physically tired at the end of the day. It’s a good feeling, but also means that a quiet evening at home is widely considered the perfect way to end a good BMTA work trip day!

    After the trip, some members of the group will go to a local restaurant for an early dinner and enjoy a beer, pizza and some good music. Whether you want to join us for the post-trip fun is up to you.

  • Daypack

    Most members bring a daypack so they can carry the food, water and other articles listed below while also keeping their hands free to carry tools.

  • Food and Water

    Neither food nor water will be provided. Bring your own. Bring a simple, but substantial lunch. A sandwich, an apple, a bag of chips or a granola bar is a typical lunch. Chocolate is a great afternoon energy booster. Bring plenty of water, especially in the hot months, at least two quarts.

  • Shoes, Clothing, etc.

    To be sure of having a dry place to sit for lunch, many people bring a spare rainproof parka or a ground cloth.

    Wear sturdy shoes that will give you protection from sharp rocks and / or protect your foot during slips or twists to the ankle. Sturdy work gloves are a must to prevent blisters.

    Long pants are strongly recommended, even in hot weather for the protection they offer — especially from poison ivy and briars. Some wear long-sleeve shirts even in the summer for the same reason. Rain may be unlikely, but a windbreaker/ rain jacket is a good idea. When you break for lunch, the jacket will keep you from getting chilled. In cold weather, instead of a single heavy coat, think multiple thin, layers that can be shed one at a time.

    Hiking in carrying tools and then working with them will warm you up even on the coldest of days. A heavy coat is tough to stuff into a daypack! The USFS and the NPS require long pants, sturdy boots, a helmet, eye protection and gloves be worn on work trips in the National Forest or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. BMTA requires the same protection for work on “private” sections. We have helmets and eye protection available for those who do not have their own. It is also a great idea to wear snake gators when using swing blades and gas-powered brushcutters. Snake gators not only protect you from snake bites, they also provide protection from the blade of the swing blade or brushcutter when you bounce your tool off a rock or a stubborn trunk of heavy brush.

  • First Aid, Insect repellent, etc.

    A compact First Aid kit (available at any outdoors store) is a good idea. If you don’t have one, some large band-aids, adhesive tape, gauze pads and duct tape (for blisters) can be useful. Insect repellant, suntan lotion and Ivy Block can be carried in or applied at the trailhead and left in the car.

  • Tools

    The trip leader will bring tools appropriate for the work to be done. If you prefer tried-and true personal hand tools, feel free to bring them. Most people have their own loppers and small fold-up handsaw but there always will be some available to borrow. We often use swing blades as well, especially in wilderness areas.

    We often use gas-powered brushcutters outside of the wilderness areas, but they need to be equipped with a steel brush-cutting blade, instead of string. The typical home weed eater with a string cutter does not work well in the woods where the brush is too heavy for such tools.

    Chainsaws and crosscut saws can be used only by those who have taken the appropriate USFS training, usually a one or two day class for each. Also required is up-to-date First Aid and CPR training from the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association. Chainsaw chaps are required when using a chainsaw.

  • Paperwork

    Yes, even when you volunteer, there is paperwork involved. Happily, with just a little help from you, your trip leader will do nearly all of it.

    When you arrive for a work trip, you will be asked to provide your name, your signature and your address as well as a phone number where your spouse, a relative or a friend can be reached in case of an emergency. In addition, we will need to know your driving time — the total time you spent round trip to get from home to the meeting place and then back home again.

    Please be sure to bring your medical insurance card … needed in the event you are injured.

Become a Section Maintainer

Become a Section Maintainer

Would you like to be personally responsible for a piece of the outdoors? Then becoming a Section Maintainer may be perfect for you!


We regularly seek out volunteers who stand out and want to do more to take care of the trail we all love — The Benton MacKaye Trail. Georgia has 44 sections of the trail while Tennessee / North Carolina have 35 sections.

To learn more about Section Maintainers, read the following:

The Process

The BMTA has a volunteer agreement with the US Forest Service and works under their oversight. To become a Section Maintainer, the following requirements must be met:

A Section Maintainer must be a current member of BMTA.

To be versed in safety practices and maintenance procedures, you’ll need to participate in a minimum of two maintenance trips.

BMTA will facilitate your on-going training in such areas as First Aid, Chainsaw and Crosscut certifications as well as certification as a Trail Crew Leader.

To discuss and view first-hand the needs of the trail, you will hike through the proposed section with the Maintenance Director. During this time, all aspects of the role of Section Maintainer will be discussed.

If you and the Director agree … WOOSH! You are the new Section Maintainer!

The Process

General Responsibilities for a Trail Maintainer

Thank you for your interest in becoming (or agreeing to become) a Section Maintainer on the Benton MacKaye Trail. Many have found this responsibility to be rewarding. As you experience each unique season on the trail, there is a special feeling that comes with having your own section of trail to maintain.

A Section Maintainer is expected:

  • To keep his or her section open and in good condition for hiking.
  • To let the state Maintenance Director know promptly when the work needed is too time-consuming or too dangerous for you to handle.

The second item – letting the Maintenance Director know when you need help is important. A Section Maintainer is also a section MONITOR. A key part of your responsibility is to ask for help when you need it. Many BMTA volunteers, including Forest Service certified chainsaw operators, stand ready to help. Some jobs need the Forest Service professionals. This is a team effort. Don’t be shy about asking. Just contact your Maintenance Director.

  • BMTA Trail Standards

    The BMTA has adopted the same basic standards as the Appalachian Trail. The key standards are detailed below in “BMT Trail Specs: Standards and Expectations”. For an interesting read and useful how-to information, ask your Maintenance Director for a copy of the US Forest Service’s handy booklet “Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook”. The online version of this excellent guide is located HERE. There is also a printable one page BMTA Trail Standards Quick Reference Card.

  • Reporting to Your Maintenance Director

    Problem Reports – Please report major problems that you are unable to correct IMMEDIATELY. Just email, or call your Maintenance Director with a brief description of the problem and its location as precisely as you can pinpoint it. Such problems may include:

    • Large blowdowns.
    • Major treadway damage (from erosion, etc.) or deterioration.
    • Significant water diversion needs.
    • Signs damaged or missing.

    Routine Work Reports – Maintainers are asked to report work hours and travel time to their state Maintenance Director within two weeks of the time the work is done. This allows the work to be reported to the Forest Service in a timely manner. The Maintainer’s Report Form lists the essential information needed. That form can be used or the same information can be given by phone or in a written message sent by email or US mail. If your Maintenance Director does not receive at least one (1) work report from you each year, your section may be declared VACANT and passed along to someone else.

  • Safety First

    Working safely is the number one priority in trail work. Please take all precautionary measures, use all protective gear, work carefully and use caution. It only takes a moment of carelessness for an injury to occur. Don’t let that happen to you or to those you’re working with.

  • Shoes, Clothing, etc.

    When you work, wear sturdy shoes that will give you protection from sharp rocks or dangerous tools. Heavy duty shoes will protect your foot from slips or twists to the ankle. Sturdy work gloves are a must to prevent blisters. Even in hot weather, long pants are strongly recommended for the protection they offer — especially from poison ivy and briars. Many wear long-sleeve shirts for the same reason.

  • Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

    The USFS and the NPS requires long pants, sturdy boots, a helmet, eye protection and gloves be worn on work trips within the National Forests or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. BMTA requires the same protection for work on “private” sections. We have helmets and eye protection available for those who do not have their own. It also is a great idea to wear snake gators when using swing blades and gas-powered brush cutters. Snake gators not only protect you from snake bites, but also from the blade of the swing blade or brushcutter when you bounce your tool off a rock or a stubborn trunk of heavy brush.

  • A Maintainer’s Tools and Equipment


    A large array of tools and equipment are available to maintainers at the BMTA Headquarters on GA 515 / US76 six miles south of Blue Ridge, Georgia. Ask your Maintenance Director for the combination number for the tool shed lock. Please sign out any tools taken and sign them back in when returned.

    Tennessee and North Carolina

    No central tool repository exists. Some Section Maintainers keep BMTA tools at their homes while others use their own tools. Ask the TN / NC Maintenance Director about these and other tool sources.

  • Basic Personal Equipment
    1. Work gloves (the thing most often forgotten!).
    2. Safety glasses.
    3. Poison Ivy protection: long pants and long sleeve shirt or ivy skin guard (at the drugstore).
    4. First-aid kit.
    5. Day pack or fanny pack.
    6. Hand pruning shears (carry in pocket or holster).
    7. Collapsible pruning saw, 8-10″ (carry in pocket or holster).
  • Larger Equipment (that can be borrowed from the Association).
    1. Loppers – use to cut branches and saplings up to 1″ caliper.
    2. Fire Rake – good for chopping a few briars and for cleaning waterbars.
    3. Swing Blade or Brushcutter – for long stretches with briars and weeds.
    4. Bow Saw – for blowdowns and trees leaning into the trail (Be sure blade has a guard – you can cut tubing to make.).
    5. Pulaski – sidehill trail, dig water diversions and use smaller chopping jobs.
    6. Adz Hoe – repair/reconstruct sidehilling.
    7. McLeod Fire Tool – a heavy rake / hoe. Great for clearing duff or refreshing side-hilling.
  • Tools for Blazing
    1. BMT blazes are a seven inches x five inches vertical diamond.
    2. Paint– any name brand, exterior, semi-gloss, mildew-resistant, white paint. Latex paint only.
    3. Paint brush — one inch is recommended.
    4. Paint Scraper — for removing loose bark before blazing.
    5. Pencil or Marker — use to outline blaze before painting.
    6. Wire brush — to remove old blazes, if needed (optional).

    No blazing equipment is kept by the BMTA. Blazers keep their own.

    *Blazes are not  permitted in designated Wilderness.

    Learn more about becoming a member of the Blaze Team, contact the Blaze Team Leader.

  • Trail Specs: BMT Standards and Expectations

    1. Corridor Vegetation Clearance

    The BMT official standard is a corridor cleared to four-feet wide and seven-feet high. Strive to keep the trail clear during the most active months of hiking, March – November. Note that tree branches grow slowly and are less trouble to hikers than briars and thorny blackberries which grow much faster. For this reason, it is recommended that branches and all cane and woody material be removed within the prescribed four-foot-wide by seven-foot-high corridor window during the dormant season. Most sections will need another pass after the spring growing season, typically in late May or June (depending on elevation, rainfall and temperatures). Some sections will require a third pass in August. In the growing season, try to maintain the corridor window at a minimum of two-feet-wide by six-feet-high, though closer to the four-foot x seven-foot standard, the better.

    2. Treadway

    The BMT goal is a treadway between 12 and 18 inches in width. In steep, rocky areas, the treadway may be narrower. When walking your section, it is good practice to knock small branches and other trip hazards off to the side. This helps keep the treadway well-defined and safer for hikers. Leaves and duff should be left on the trail as they help prevent erosion. Waterbars should be cleaned at least annually and reconstructed as needed (a fire rake is useful for this). When a stretch of sidehill trail becomes worn or eroded, rehabilitate it (a Pulaski or hoe is useful for this). Ask your Maintenance Director for help! Refreshing a substantial section of sidehilling is a great monthly work trip.

    3. Blowdowns

    You will normally be able to handle minor blowdowns (up to six inches in diameter). Experienced maintainers can handle larger trees using a bow saw. Never attempt to saw out a blowdown you are not absolutely certain you can handle safely. Larger trees can weigh several tons and shift unpredictably as they are cut. If in doubt, ask for help (give specific location information). Blowdowns two to five feet high should be given top priority. Chainsaws and crosscut saws can be used only by those who have taken the appropriate USFS training (usually a two-day class for each) as well as have received up-to-date First Aid and CPR training from the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association. Chainsaw chaps are required when using a chainsaw or crosscut saw.

    4. Blazing

    The BMT standard is a white, five-inch-wide by seven-inch-high, painted blaze placed approximately five feet off the ground.

    Existing ‘glob blazes’ can be revised to specs by tracing the outline on the existing paint. Then use a scraper to remove the overrun.

    All intersections, turns or places where the treadway is not well defined, as well as points of potential confusion should be blazed. Look at the trail as if you were a hiker who had never seen it before. Otherwise, blazes should be spaced about 200 yards apart (approximately three minutes of hiking). If not already blazed to specifications, try to have your section in compliance within two years. After this, one blazing trip per year should keep your blazes in top shape.

    Double Blazes: A double-blaze (one BMT diamond directly above the other) indicates a “change-of-direction or heads-up!”. It should be the last mark before the turn, intersection, etc. and should be placed just before it, not in it. Standing in the turn, intersection, etc., one should readily be able to see the single blaze leading away and a reassurance blaze should appear shortly after. Be sure to check both directions of travel. Do not blaze every turn! Double-blazing is required only where there is a possibility of missing a turn. For example, a switchback turn with no connection to any existing road or trail would not be blazed.

    It is the responsibility of BMTA’s Blaze Team to ensure that all sections of the BMT are blazed correctly.

    If you’re interested in learning how to blaze the trail and want to become a member of the Blaze Team, contact the Blaze Team Leader.

  • Changing Sections or Retiring

    If, for any reason, you wish to change sections, reduce the length of your section, or give up your section altogether, please let your Maintenance Director know. Nothing lasts forever. We greatly appreciate all that you do for however long you can do it.

  • Additional Questions?

    If you have additional questions or you want to become a Section Maintainer, contact the GA Maintenance Director or the TN/NC Maintenance Director.

What Are the Requirements

What Are The Requirements for a Section Maintainer?

As sections become available, Section Maintainers are appointed by the state Maintenance Director based on the following requirements:

  • To be a BMTA member in good standing.
  • To have read and absorbed the General Responsibilities for Section Maintainers and had any questions answered by the Maintenance Director or member of the relevant Maintenance Team.
  • To either have attended at least two (2) monthly work trips (during at least one of which appropriate training takes place), or to have received individual training from a member of the Maintenance Team as assigned by the appropriate Maintenance Director.
  • To have completed the Section Walk Training (SWT) with a member of the Maintenance Team. Once requirements one through three have been met, the Maintenance Director may temporarily assign a section to the individual — on a section available basis.
  • The next step is for the new maintainer to do a SWT of his / her newly assigned section with a member of the Maintenance Team. Only when the SWT is completed and the work hours reported to the Maintenance Director by the Maintenance Team member will the assignment be finalized.

Temporary Assignments: At the discretion of the appropriate Maintenance Director, individuals who have met the first three (3) requirements above, but not yet the fourth, may be assigned a section on a temporary basis.

Questions? In Georgia contact the GA Maintenance Director and in Tennessee contact the TN/NC Maintenance Director.

Trail Maintenance Partners

Trail Maintenance Partners are groups and organizations (formal and informal) who maintain a particular section of our trail or otherwise contribute substantially to the construction or maintenance of the BMT. We recognize these Partner organizations in our list of section maintainers, and communicate with them through an individual they designate as their leader / liaison.  Trail Maintenance Partner leaders / liaisons must be BMTA members in good standing, trained as are all individual section maintainers or Blaze Team members, and they are expected to communicate that training to their team on each work trip.  A Trail Maintenance Partner leader / liaison (BMTA Member) must be present on all work trips to sign up all attendees on the work trip, give a safety talk and follow up with hours, etc., as with any group maintenance trip.

Trail Maintenance Partner organizations need not pay annual membership dues as a group or club, but we encourage individuals in those organizations to maintain individual memberships in the category that fits their various situations.  Any one of those members also wishing to serve as leader / liaison will need to be trained by appropriate officers of the BMTA.

For additional information, contact the GA Maintenance Director or the TN/NC Maintenance Director.

Video for Trail Maintenance

Sue & Dave – Trail Maintainers

A Little Walk in the Woods

Clare & Ed – Trail Maintainers

Benton MacKaye Trail Crew