Brent Martin Plans Future of Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy

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Lifetime conservationist, author, and wilderness guide Brent Martin recently accepted the role of full-time executive director of the Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer 

A lifelong conservationist and educator, as well as Alarka Expeditions’ co-owner and guide, Brent Martin said he could not refuse the opportunity to additionally step into the role of executive director for the Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy due to his long-time interest in the historical figure of William Bartram, for which the trail and the Conservancy is named. 

For several years, Martin has written about Bartram, read and studied his famous book, “Bartram’s Travels,” and hiked and helped manage sections of the trail that exist throughout the Southeastern states, from Florida to Western North Carolina. In fact, the most established Bartram Trail section winds about 115 miles from the North Georgia mountains into North Carolina. As executive director, Martin will be tasked to not only promote both states’ Bartram hiking trail sections, but also to grow volunteer participation so that all of the Blue Ridge sections of the Bartram Trail are managed and maintained. 

Trail maintenance on Blue Ridge sections of the Bartram Trail have been ongoing since the 1970s, and volunteers are regularly needed to assist with Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy’s efforts to keep the trail clean and clear for the public to use.

Eighteenth century American naturalist William Bartram travelled the southeastern United States between the years of 1773 and 1777, when the country was still colonized by Great Britain and when Native Indians still maintained traditional ways of life. Bartram’s painstaking travels through what was considered by much of the world as wild wilderness involved not only observing animals, plants, and Native customs, but also documenting and illustrating detailed findings. In the late 1780s, Bartram completed the book for which he became most famous and which is still available and widely read. Copies are for sale locally at Macon County Historical Museum and more. 

Formerly called the North Carolina Bartram Trail Society, the Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy was created in 1977 to mark and maintain Bartram’s trail corridor so that the general public could more readily access it. Some of the other missions of the organization are to recognize, honor, and educate regarding Bartram’s life and contributions as a naturalist; promote the trail and preserve it for future generations; and, specifically, according to the Conservancy, “promote further enquiry and knowledge about the plants and animals of the southern Appalachians, as well as the traditions and culture of the native Cherokee people, which Bartram encountered on his travels here in 1775.”

Martin will also promote volunteer trail maintenance days twice a month: on the second Saturday and the third Friday. All supplies are provided. Where to meet and at what time is determined monthly and the information made available by visiting the website, ncbartramtrail.org, or the Conservancy’s Facebook page. This week, on Saturday, Feb. 13, volunteers can meet at 9 a.m. at the Wallace Branch parking lot of the Bartram Trail, at the end of Pressley Road off Old Murphy Road in Franklin.  

The Conservancy currently boasts about 350 members with about 40 committed to regularly maintaining the trail. “But we are always looking for, and need volunteers since the Blue Ridge sections of the trail are long,” said Martin. Plus, the Conservancy is working to extend the trail from Hickory Knoll to Wallace Branch. This section is disrupted by main roads so that hikers must go off trail for several miles before getting back on the trail. 

Volunteers are instructed on-site, however, anyone interested in assisting can watch trail maintenance videos and glean information through reading “Basics of Trail Maintenance” on the ncbartramtrail.org website. 

Another focus is on youth involvement. While youth are encouraged to volunteer during maintenance days, Macon Youth Trail Corps will take place this summer – and hopefully during future summers, indicated Martin. “Thanks to a generous donation, U.S. Forest Service support, and the support and partnership of the Macon County School System’s STEM Program, we will be hiring six high school students who will work on the trail for four weeks this summer,” he said. 

“It’s a paid internship for students to learn about careers in outdoor recreation and natural resources,” said Jennifer Love, STEM coordinator for the Macon County school system and a Conservancy board member. “We are partnering with the Youth Conservation Corps out of Chattanooga, Tenn. They are professionals at this. They provide instructors, supervisors, and tools. We are actually working now to find the local students through an application process.”

Martin said that other plans for the Conservancy are to promote, through public education projects, signage, and more, the life of William Bartram. A long-term goal is to “get Bartram in the local classrooms so that students understand the significance of him as a historical figure.” 

“I’m pretty excited at the thought of not only area youth getting more involved, but about many students learning about Bartram and the trail’s important history, which has much to do with how people – mostly Cherokee – lived in the 1700s,” said Martin.

He would like to lead groups on day and overnight hiking trips of sections of the Bartram Trail, and he is currently at work on a new Bartram trail guide, which will be published next year by University of Georgia Press. Martin’s new book will include Bartram Trail maps as well as a more detailed history of Bartram, and local, current information related to the trail. 

Finally, he expects to offer talks, through the local library, at Cowee Arts & Heritage Center, and in other locations that center on Bartram and the trail. 

Interested youth for the summer program can email Love at jennifer.love@macon.k12.nc.us. The application process deadline is mid-March. And, interested volunteers for trail maintenance can also email Love or sign up on the Conservancy website. 

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