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Formation and Early Years
An Allentown Hiking Club History
by Barbara L. Wiemann

In the summer of 1931, Elwood S. Thomas, a member of the Allentown School Board, visited Europe, where he was impressed with the vigor of Europeans who walked and hiked. Upon his return to Allentown, he advocated for the formation of a hiking group to introduce the benefits of hiking to the residents of his home city.

In response to his enthusiasm, the Allentown Recreation Commission, under the leadership of Irene Welty, formally issued an invitation to local citizens to meet on Wednesday, December 2, at City Hall to organize a hiking group. 23 people attended. In what was obviously a busy and productive meeting, the attendees
  • chose the name Allentown Hiking Club for the club
  • elected officers (Walter Benning was elected President)
  • set the yearly dues at $1.00
  • appointed a committee to write by-laws (Clarrisa Krommes and Anne Ritter)
  • agreed to accept responsibility for maintaining the Appalachian Trail, from the New Tripoli-Tamaqua road west for a distance of seven and one-half miles to the Tri County Line‚ &
  • adopted a plan of holding two Saturday hikes, one Sunday hike and a business meeting each month and scheduled the first month's hikes
The club's first hike, led by Irene Welty, went to the Pinnacle on December 6. Club attendance records indicate that 18 members and 6 visitors participated in the outing. The club kept detailed records of attendance at all hike; Clarissa Krommes was recognized as the member who attended the most hikes during 1932.

Judging from the minutes of the monthly meetings, one of the most vexing concerns was arranging transportation for hikers. In January 1932, after a lengthy discussion, members voted to charge everyone attending a hike ten cents, which would be placed in a gasoline fund. The issue was revisited at the next two meetings. In March, members decided to discontinue the gasoline fund and secure a truck and driver for $5.50, for which amount he would "transport hikers for a distance of fifty-seven miles." In September, members decided to revert to using members' cars for transportation, and in January 1933 the minutes note that "on all hikes where machines are required, a box be put at a place of convenience, for all to contribute what they like, and the total to be distributed equally among the car drivers."

The club soon added activities that continue to this time. Speakers and programs enhanced meetings. Club vice president Charles Wisely presented a talk outlining a hiker's duties. Other presentations included an amusing talk entitled "Reflections on an Amateur Hiker‚" and a first aid presentation. An annual banquet was approved. And at the annual meeting in December 1936, the Club named its first honorary members: Elwood Thomas, Ernest Ashley, Frank Beary, Percy B. Ruhe, and Myron Avery.

John Leibig was elected President in 1933 and served for five years. Leibig began a regular newspaper column "With the Hikers" for the Allentown newspaper. Hand drawn maps of the hike routes were included. In addition to this external publicity, the club began a mimeographed official members publication entitled the "Trail-O-Gram." It included hike listings, recaps of past events, trail news, articles of interest to hikers, and hiker humor.

In September 1932 the club appointed Walter Benning as the club's first Supervisor of Trails. He would be responsible for organizing the work parties needed to keep the club's Appalachian Trail section cleared. In January 1935, E. M. Zimmerman and Louis Haas of the Appalachian Trail Conference attended the club meeting and Zimmerman presented a talk on the Appalachian Trail. The Club voted to become a dues paying member of the Appalachian Trail Conference and decided to embark on an ambitious new project: building a "cabin" on the Appalachian Trail.