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Benton MacKaye

Benton MacKaye

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Benton MacKaye was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 forester, planner and conservationist
Conservationist
Conservationists are proponents or advocates of conservation. They advocate for the protection of all the species in an ecosystem with a strong focus on the natural environment...

. He was born in Stamford, Connecticut
Stamford, Connecticut
Stamford is a city in Fairfield County, Connecticut, United States. According to the 2010 census, the population of the city is 122,643, making it the fourth largest city in the state and the eighth largest city in New England...

; his father was actor and dramatist Steele MacKaye
Steele MacKaye
James Morrison Steele MacKaye was an American playwright, actor, theater manager and inventor. Having acted, written, directed and produced numerous and popular plays and theatrical spectaculars of the day, he became one of the most famous actors and theater producers of his...

. After studying forestry at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 (B.A., 1900; M.A. School of Forestry, 1905), Benton later taught there for several years. He joined a number of Federal bureaus and agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority
Tennessee Valley Authority
The Tennessee Valley Authority is a federally owned corporation in the United States created by congressional charter in May 1933 to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region particularly affected...

, and the U.S. Department of Labor; he was also was a member of the Technical Alliance
Technical Alliance
Towards the end of 1919, American engineer Howard Scott formed the Technical Alliance, a group of engineers, scientists, and technicians based in New York. The Technical Alliance started an Energy Survey of North America, aimed at documenting the wastefulness of the capitalist system...

 where he participated in the Energy Survey of North America.

MacKaye helped pioneer the idea of land preservation for recreation and conservation purposes, and was a strong advocate of balancing human needs and those of nature; he coined the term "Geotechnics" to describe this philosophy. In addition to writing the first argument against urban sprawl
Urban sprawl
Urban sprawl, also known as suburban sprawl, is a multifaceted concept, which includes the spreading outwards of a city and its suburbs to its outskirts to low-density and auto-dependent development on rural land, high segregation of uses Urban sprawl, also known as suburban sprawl, is a...

, MacKaye also authored two books, The New Exploration: A Philosophy of Regional Planning and Expedition Nine: A Return to a Region. Thirteen of his essays were published in the collection From Geography to Geotechnics. A co-founder of The Wilderness Society
The Wilderness Society (United States)
The Wilderness Society is an American organization that is dedicated to protecting America's wilderness. It was formed in 1935 and currently has over 300,000 members and supporters.-Founding:The society was incorporated on January 21, 1935...

, he is best known as the originator of the Appalachian Trail
Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail or simply the AT, is a marked hiking trail in the eastern United States extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. It is approximately long...

 (AT), an idea he presented in his 1921 article titled An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning. The Benton MacKaye Trail
Benton MacKaye Trail
The Benton MacKaye Trail or BMT is a footpath nearly in length in the Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern United States and is blazed by a white diamond, 5" across by 7" tall...

, some portions of which coincide with the Appalachian Trail, is named after him.

Early life


Emile Benton MacKaye was born in Stamford, Connecticut
Stamford, Connecticut
Stamford is a city in Fairfield County, Connecticut, United States. According to the 2010 census, the population of the city is 122,643, making it the fourth largest city in the state and the eighth largest city in New England...

 on March 6, 1879 to actor and dramatist (James) Steele MacKaye
Steele MacKaye
James Morrison Steele MacKaye was an American playwright, actor, theater manager and inventor. Having acted, written, directed and produced numerous and popular plays and theatrical spectaculars of the day, he became one of the most famous actors and theater producers of his...

 and his wife Mary. He was the sixth child and last son born to the couple. His siblings were Arthur Loring MacKaye (1863–1939), Harold (Hal) Steele (1866–1928), William Payson (1868–1889), James (Jamie) Medbery
James MacKaye
James Medbury MacKaye was an American engineer and philosopher.MacKaye was born in New York City, the son of actor Steele MacKaye and Mary MacKaye, and brother of poet Percy MacKaye and conservationist Benton MacKaye. He attended Grammar School No...

 (1872–1935), Percy
Percy MacKaye
Percy MacKaye was an American dramatist and poet.-Biography:MacKaye was born in New York City, New York. After graduating from Harvard in 1897, he traveled in Europe for three years, residing in Rome, Switzerland and London, studying at the University of Leipzig in 1899–1900...

 (1875–1956), and Hazel (1880–1944). Benton's name was derived from his paternal grandmother, Emily Benton Steele. The family often suffered from financial troubles due to the patriarch's numerous failed business ventures; although the Stamford home where Benton was born and where the family had lived since 1875 was a comfortable one, in late 1879 the family began a restless series of moves due to lack of funds. They lived in farms and houses in Brattleboro, Vermont; Norton, Massachusetts; Mount Vernon, New York; and Ridgefield, Connecticut, before moving to New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 in 1885.

To escape the bustle of city-life, the family took to visiting Shirley Center
Shirley, Massachusetts
-Demographics:This article describes the town of Shirley as a whole. Additional demographic detail is available which describes only the central settlement or village within the town, although that detail is included in the aggregate values reported here...

, Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

, a quiet village 30 miles from Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 which Benton would continue to visit until his death. In 1888, his brother William purchased an estate in Shirley that the family would come to call "The Cottage". Eight-year-old Benton was immediately enamored with the beauty and freedom of the country, proclaiming he enjoyed it far more than urban existence. Shortly after William died of a sudden respiratory disease in 1889, the family moved to Washington, D.C. An indifferent student, MacKaye once described school as "a place that boys like to run away from". Drawn to the study of the natural world, he often pursued knowledge on his own; he spent much time in the Smithsonian, making sketches of the abundant collections and volunteering to help scientists in their labs. He befriended assistant curator James Benedict, and attended lectures given by such luminaries as Civil War hero John Wesley Powell
John Wesley Powell
John Wesley Powell was a U.S. soldier, geologist, explorer of the American West, and director of major scientific and cultural institutions...

 and arctic explorer Robert Peary
Robert Peary
Robert Edwin Peary, Sr. was an American explorer who claimed to have been the first person, on April 6, 1909, to reach the geographic North Pole...

.

His early immersion in nature helped him cope with tragedy that eventually struck the MacKaye family; the frequently-absent Steele died in early 1894, when Benton was fourteen. While attending high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he began charting the landscape around Shirley Center, documenting vegetation, landforms, rivers, and roads in numbered notebooks. Lewis Mumford, a close friend of MacKaye and his future biographer, wrote that "This direct, first-hand education through the senses and feelings, with its deliberate observation of nature in every guise—including the human animal—has nourished MacKaye all his life."

Harvard and forestry


After dropping out of school in order to prepare for college entrance exams on his own, in 1896 MacKaye followed his brothers—James, an engineer and philosopher, and Percy, a dramatist and poet—to Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, where he studied geology. It took him two years to overcome deficiencies in subjects such as German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

, algebra and physics.

When he graduated in June 1905, MacKaye was still unsure what career he should embark upon. During this time, he read Thomas Henry Huxley's 1877 work Physiography: An Introduction to the Study of Nature—a gift from his brother James, and a work that would prove influential in MacKaye's future regional planning. In October 1903, he enrolled in Harvard's newly established forestry school; he was the school's first student to graduate, in 1905. For the next five years, he alternated between teaching at Harvard's newly created forestry school near Petersham, Massachusetts, and working as a Forest Assistant with the Forest Service.

MacKaye made some important contributions during the early years of national forestry. While working as a Forest Examiner in the early teens, he performed groundbreaking research on the impacts of forest cover on runoff in New Hampshire's White Mountains
White Mountains (New Hampshire)
The White Mountains are a mountain range covering about a quarter of the state of New Hampshire and a small portion of western Maine in the United States. Part of the Appalachian Mountains, they are considered the most rugged mountains in New England...

. This was during a time in which an intense debate regarding the connection between deforestation
Deforestation
Deforestation is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a nonforest use. Examples of deforestation include conversion of forestland to farms, ranches, or urban use....

 and irregular stream flow was occurring, and MacKaye's scientific evidence that forest cover controlled steam flow helped in the creation of the White Mountain National Forest
White Mountain National Forest
The White Mountain National Forest is a federally-managed forest contained within the White Mountains in the northeastern United States. It was established in 1918 as a result of the Weeks Act of 1911; federal acquisition of land had already begun in 1914. It has a total area of...

.

Progressive politics


In 1913, while still living in Washington, Mackaye helped form a social activist group called the Hell Raisers. Composed of government workers, congressional staffers, and journalists, the informal group aimed to raise public awareness about social and political issues.

He married Jessie Belle Hardy Stubbs
Jessie Belle Hardy Stubbs MacKaye
Jessie Belle Hardy Stubbs MacKaye was president of the Milwaukee Women's Peace Society.-Biography:She attended Columbia University and was the legislative chair of the Women's Peace Society in New York City...

 in 1915.

Legacy


In his 2002 book Long Trails of the Southeast, writer and avid hiker Johnny Molloy wrote that the Benton Mackaye Trail "is what I imagine the Appalachian Trail was like many decades ago—a lesser tamed path, steep in places, rough in spots, and still evolving".

External links