Lebanon boasts one of the world’s most sophisticated hiking trail networks, which traverses 75 towns and villages.
A few years ago, John Keyrouz fled the fast lane in Los Angeles and returned to Lebanon. When he ventured into the mountains to relive fond childhood hiking memories, he was astounded to discover a world class trail system that transects 75 towns and villages and 275 miles of breathtaking mountain scenery.
Besieged with a desire to uplift the country’s rural poor through eco-tourism projects, in 2005 Joseph Karam from ECODIT and his colleague Karim El-Jisr applied for a $3.3 million USAID grant to establish a trail that would rival the organization and professionalism of America’s famed 2,175 mile Appalachian Trail. They got the grant, but the hard work was yet to come.
Building Lebanon’s Mountain Trail
In just two years – between 2006 and 2008 – Karam and El-Jisr developed a feasible concept and proposal for the Lebanon Mountain Trail or LMT trail, obtained substantial funding to implement their ideas, and then worked with a variety of local stakeholders and government representatives to get it “off” the ground.
Not only did they seek council from Lebanon’s own Environmental and Tourism ministries, but they also received guidance from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the United States Forest Service, and the International Ecotourism Society.
Dozens of local guides were trained to administer first aid, navigate with a map and compass, recognize trees, and in general conduct professional tours through 3 Nationally Protected Areas, 1 World Heritage Site, and 75 quaint towns and villages, while local guesthouses were empowered to offer affordable accommodation and other facilities for intrepid adventurers.
Each of the LMT’s 26 sections are comprised of trails that both start and end in a village. Some are as short as 9km and the longest distance between two villages is just 24 km. Altitudes range from 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level.
A trail with guest lodging along the way
There are numerous guest lodges on the trail along with a few campgrounds for those on a tight budget, and hikers can use ablution facilities at almost all of the networked villages.
Experienced hikers have been known to get from the north to the south in just 26 days (otherwise known as a walk-through), although less experienced hikers are urged to afford themselves an additional week.
More than just another sustainable development project, Keyrouz says of the Lebanon Mountain Trail:
It is a trail of Promise. A promise that, through dedication and love, great strides can be accomplished in the development and protection of the physical, ecological, geographical, historical and cultural treasures of Lebanon. It is also a promise that with proper education and empowerment, we can encourage ownership of the trail by the rural villages and communities along it.
The LMT’s success offers an extraordinary glimpse of what is possible “when a few group of caring individuals set their sites on a common, worthwhile goal.