BMTA Home Page

Benton MacKaye
Trail Assn.

Guidelines for Section Maintainers

"...leaving a footpath for generations to follow."

< Back Home BMTA Contact Us form Site Map


Thank you for considering becoming (or agreeing to become!) a Section Maintainer on the Benton MacKaye Trail.  Many have found this responsibility to be rewarding.  There is a special feeling that comes with having your own section of trail to maintain through the seasons and years.

General Responsibilities of a BMT Maintainer

A Section Maintainer is expected (1) to keep his or her section open and in good condition for hiking, and (2) 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 the 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 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 discussion of the problem and its location as precisely as you can pinpoint it.  Such problems may include:

1. Large blowdowns
2. Major treadway damage (from erosion, etc.) or deterioration
3. Significant water diversion needs
4. 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 (linked HERE) 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 the ones you're working with.

Shoes, Clothing, etc:  When you work, wear sturdy shoes that will give you protection from sharp rocks, or dangerous tools, and protect your foot in slips or twists to the ankle.  Sturdy work gloves are a must to prevent blisters.  Long pantsare 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.

Person 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 Forest or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  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 brush cutters.  Snake gators not only protect you from snake bites but also from the blade of the swing blade or brush cutter 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 in the BMTA Headquarters on GA 515/US76 six miles south of Blue Ridge, Georgia.  Ask your Maintenance Director for the combination number for the toolshed 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 and 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 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  (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. Swingblade or WeedCutter - for long stretches with briars and weeds
4. Bow saw – for blowdowns and trees leaning into trail (Be sure blade has a guard - can cut tubing to make.)
5. Pulaski – sidehill trail, dig water diversions, and smaller chopping jobs
6. Adz hoe – repair/reconstruct sidehill trail
7. McLeod Fire Tool – a heavy rake/hoe.  Great for clearing duff or refreshing side-hilling

Tools For Blazing

1. BMT blazes are a 7”x5” vertical diamond.  Make your own template, or contact your Maintenance Director.
2. Paint - any name brand, exterior, semi-gloss, mildew-resistant, white paint; Latex only
3. Paint brush - 1 inch 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)

Note: No blazing equipment is kept by the BMTA; Section Maintainers keep their own.  No blazes are permitted in designated Wilderness.

Trail Specs: BMT Standards and Expectations

1. Corridor Vegetation Clearance

The BMT official standard is a corridor clear 4-feet wide and 7-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 4-foot-wide by 7-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 2-ft-wide by 6-ft-high, though the closer to the 4' x 8' 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 briefly 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 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 sidehilled trail becomes worn or eroded, rehabilitate it (Pulaski or adz hoe are useful).  Ask for help!  Refreshing a substantial section of sidehilling is great monthly worktrip.  Ask your Maintenance Director.

3. Blowdowns

You will normally be able to handle minor blowdowns (up to 6" 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 2-5 feet high should be given top priority.  Chain saws and crosscut saws can only be used by those who have taken the appropriate USFS training, usually a one or two day class for each, and also have up-to-date First Aid and CPR training from the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association.  Chain saw chaps are required when using a chain saw.

4. Blazing

♦ The BMT standard is a white, 5-inch-wide by 7-inch-high, painted blaze placed approximately 5’ off the ground.

♦ Existing 'glob blazes' can be brought to standard by tracing the outline on the existing paint then using a scraper to remove the overrun.

♦ All intersections, turns, places where the treadway is not well defined, and 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 3 minutes of hiking).  If not already blazed to standard, try to have your section at standard 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) means "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.

BMT Section Maintainer Tips and Expectations by Rick Harris

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.

Further Questions

Please contact your state Maintenance Director.

Rev. August, 2012

BMTA Home   Contact Us   Site Map   Events   Membership Info

All content copyright © 2003-2014 by Benton MacKaye Trail Association, Inc. All rights reserved.