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Lebanon's Mountain Trail Paves Way For Greener Future

With its war-torn history, environmentalism, conservation and eco-tourism have been low on the list of priorities for Lebanese people. But with the opening of the Lebanon Mountain Trail, a 440-kilometer hiking trail that runs through the country, that indifference is fading.

On a warm April day, residents of the village of Mtain came out in droves to celebrate the official opening of the Lebanon Mountain Trail. As one of the 73 villages the trail runs through, Mtain's population is looking forward to its new role as a host to hikers.

Lebanon's Minister of Tourism Fady Abboud says he hopes the LMT will bring a new kind of tourism to his country.

"Lebanon is not just about the nightlife, Lebanon has beautiful mountains, and it is a country for all tastes. When you walk around this part of the world, you are walking on thousands of years of history and culture," he said. "The alphabet comes from this part of the world, and all major religions come from this part of the world."

With the help of a grant from the United States Agency for International Development, the trail underwent an extensive two-year restoration, which included money for villagers to transform their homes in proper "guest houses" where hikers can spend the night.

ECODIT, a company that provides environmental consulting services worked with USAID on the project. Company president Joseph Karam says he hopes the trail will bring money to the rural villages.

"The hope is that, as they come through the trail, and begin injecting income, cash, creating jobs the people of the mountains will appreciate better the heritage that they have, and take better control to protect it, because it will become a source of income to them," said Karam.

Out on the LMT, the lack of land protection is evident. Plastic bottles, empty cigarette boxes and shotgun shells litter the ground.

Even the frogs that inhabit the surrounding lakes are surrounded by garbage. Hiker Stephanie Christiansen is originally from New Zealand, and teaches at a school in Lebanon.

"You need a cultural sea change in Lebanon, in terms of environmental issues. They just throw their rubbish anywhere, any time," she said. "They have no concept of greenness."

It is a trend some government officials are working to change, says Abboud.

"We are not recycling enough, we are producing a lot of trash, much more than we should be. Recycling is not part of our educational system, which is so very wrong," he said.

Supporters of the trail are also working to get it certified as a "protected area", which would save it from environmental threats such as quarrying and road paving.