This summer you can discover, or rediscover, the mountains of Lebanon, make a difference in the lives of ordinary Lebanese people and help protect the country’s natural beauty and historical landmarks by merely taking an enjoyable trek on the Lebanon Mountain Trail.
Every year, more than 25,000 visitors walk on the LMT, including Lebanese and foreign hikers, providing an economic lifeline to the rural communities along the trail.
The 470-kilometer path, which runs from Andqet in the north to Marjaayoun in the south, crosses more than 75 towns and villages and numerous historical landmarks, including the Qadisha Valley. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, three nature reserves, one biosphere reserve, and several protected and important bird conservation areas.
As a hiker on the LMT, you help support the local economy by hiring local guides and staying in guesthouses along the way. The payoff? You’ll experience Lebanon’s spectacular views and natural splendor while enjoying its famed hospitality at its best.
This win-win ecotourism is the result of the unflagging devotion and efforts of a passionate band of Lebanese, in Lebanon and abroad, who work together in the Lebanon Mountain Trail Association. The LMTA works to:
•Develop, maintain and conserve the Lebanon Mountain Trail
•Establish side trails on the Lebanon Mountain Trail
•Protect the natural and cultural heritage and landmarks near the trail
•Encourage responsible tourism to enhance income in rural areas
LMTA members work yearlong – fundraising, trailblazing, educating, renovating – whatever it takes to conserve the trail and support the rural communities it connects.
How it all started
The idea of the LMT was inspired by the famous Appalachian Trail in the United States. Joseph Karam, who was the president of ECODIT, a U.S. company with a sister company in Lebanon, recounted the genesis of the LMT on the association’s website, saying:
“The gradual rise of ecotourism as a post-conflict recreational industry in Lebanon has intrigued me and my colleague Karim El-Jisr. Beginning in 2001, we began thinking of ways to help develop local ecotourism products in Lebanon, focusing on the Batroun region. I have also been awed by the
Appalachian Trail ever since moving to the United States in the mid-’80s: a 2,175-mile hiking trail from Georgia to Maine, a six-month journey that several hundred thru-hikers completed each year. Wow, I thought!
One day, in the summer of 2002, it struck me that the mountains of Lebanon, with their unique natural and cultural heritage, could be the HOME of a wonderful long-distance hiking trail similar to the Appalachian Trail. The LMT idea was hence born. I shared it with Karim and together we worked on developing the idea into a detailed concept.”
The chance came to make the concept a reality when, in the summer of 2005, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) called for applications to promote economic growth in rural areas of Lebanon. So they submitted a detailed proposal through ECODIT and were awarded $3.3 million over a two-year period to implement their idea. As Karam said, “The rest is history.”
The Lebanon Mountain Trail Association was formed in 2007 to continue the work. It has worked tirelessly since 2007 and today the LMT is a world-class destination. It has a growing circle of friends, both on the trail and all around the world that appreciate the importance of protecting this national treasure.
Annual thru-walk attracts hikers from around the world
You can hike the trail or sections of it any time of the year. And every April, you can join in the LMTA’s signature thru-walk, walking the full 470 kilometers or a select segment, sleeping in guesthouses along the way and enjoying gourmet food prepared by local hosts.
But sign up early, advises LMTA board President Nadine Weber. “Every year, the thru-walk is fully booked earlier and earlier. This April, for the seventh consecutive year, 170 people, including Lebanese, foreigners and Lebanese from the diaspora hiked during the 31- day thru-walk. “Some people make it a tradition. I have friends from the U.K. who come every year,” she said. This year it is generating 800 overnight stays in guesthouses, directly supporting the local economy, she added.
“It’s the Lebanese who come back HOME to hike with us who really make a big difference,” said Weber. “We depend on them.”
Each year the thru-walk has a theme and a cause it promotes. The 2015 theme is “Walk for Cultural and Archeological Heritage.” Many generations “left behind cultural and archaeological remains and assets that we need to take pride in and safeguard for our benefit and for the benefit of the generations to come,” the LMTA announces on its website. “Unfortunately many of these sites are degrading and slowly disappearing either by neglect or by lack of funds.”
The LMTA raised $175,000 to restore a 17th-century town square in Mtein as part of the effort to address this problem. “We are focusing on mapping the important historical sites and, with the help of the Ministry of Tourism, working to protect them,” said Weber. In 2014, the walk was for trail protection. In 2013, it was for the protection of migrating birds, and in in 2012, it was for water conservation.
The LMTA is not just spending money on the trails, said Salam Khalife, a former board member who manages the LMTA guesthouse program, which began in 2013. “A big part of our mission is to support the economic development of the villages on the LMT. We do that by training local guides and helping owners of traditional Lebanese HOMEs along the trail develop guesthouses.
” LMTA’s guesthouse program aims to develop two per village in 27 stops along the LMT. It began by establishing quality standards and norms to guide guesthouse renovation, as well as raising between $25,000-$40,000 for the renovation of each guesthouse. In exchange, HOMEowners signed five-year contracts with the LMTA to host visitors. Khalife personally visited each potential guesthouse to identify its needs. Eight houses were selected and renovated in 2014.
“I love what Gandhi said: ‘If everyone brings a stone, we can build a wall,’” said Khalife. “When living with simplicity and generosity, we help other people live. I feel good about what we are doing because we are contributing directly to sustaining families in rural Lebanon.”