Believe it or not, I recently spent some time reading a few of the ODATC’s old archived newsletters. Many issues were not available (sadly, there are entire years missing), but I read enough to get a pretty good sense of just how our Club looked in the beginning and how it evolved to where it is today. This was interesting reading, and I’d like to share with you some of what I learned.
The earliest newsletter I found was dated December 26, 1969, and it consisted of a single, one-sided, typewriter-typed page. At that time the Club had about 25 members – all male – and offered one hike per month. Tom Pearson was president, annual dues were $4, and meetings were held at the First Baptist Church on Monument Avenue. Despite its small size, the Club was quite environmentally active. Meetings featured speakers who talked about environmental issues, and the Club sold anti-pollution slogan buttons for 50 cents each. Button sale proceeds then went to various environmental causes.
By the end of 1970 the Club raised dues to $5 to help cover the cost of stationery, if you can believe that. In 1971 they began offering two activities per month, and by the end of that year they were up to almost one activity per week. Around that same time the Club developed its first hike rating system, which was peculiar in that it ignored distance and elevation and focused solely on terrain ruggedness. Class I was considered easy, Class II – moderate, Class III – rugged areas, and Class IV – rugged terrain. (Just how bad were the trails back then?) By 1973 the work trips were even rated for difficulty!
In the early `70s the Club had a group called the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys Committee, which provided outdoor wilderness experiences to low-income urban boys. (Recall that 17 months ago we did a similar outreach program.) The newsletter had crept up to 4 pages by then, and the activities – though not very numerous – were quite diverse. The Club offered trips to the Canadian Rockies, whitewater rafting in West Virginia, and evening movies. The early newsletters gave me a definite sense of the Club being a small but very dedicated and close-knit group of outdoor enthusiasts.
In 1978 Lynne Overman became the Club’s 7th president and first female president. Women have enjoyed a strong and official presence in the Club ever since.
In 1981 the Club increased dues to $8, and a newly revised hike rating system appeared. Like its predecessor, this system ignored distance and focused instead on the difficulty of the hike: Class I – easy, Class II – a little more strenuous, Class III – very strenuous, and Class IV – don’t ask (No kidding – “don’t ask” was the actual rating. Do you love it?!)
The year 1989 marked the beginning of our newsletter being called The Walker, and its layout was much as it today. Membership was 150 strong, and the major event that year was a celebration of the Club’s 20th anniversary. The annual Canaan Valley ski weekend emerged on the scene that same year, and as many of you know first-hand, is still going strong. The board, under the guidance of president Pat Doyle, referred to itself as the “Imperial Council”. (I must admit that I wouldn’t mind everyone referring to our current board in this manner!) What is also interesting is that the Club worked very hard back then to migrate away from the very same renewal scheme that we just adopted! Yes, during the past 13 years we’ve gone full circle on the renewal issue!
In 1990 we finally broke the 200-member barrier, and one surprising new activity was organized square dances. (You might know that we’re now dabbling in contra dancing, which is a very similar.)
The Club built our shelter in 1991, and it turns out this was a very large and difficult task that demanded the Club’s focus and energy for many months. During that same year the Club moved its general membership meetings to the Round House at Byrd Park.
In 1992 the Club had about 300 members, and a third of them responded to an in-house survey that revealed some very telling information. What I found particularly interesting is that membership dues were $10 back then, and 85% of the members indicated that they would be willing to pay an additional $5. (That thud you just heard was the sound of our money-hungry treasurer fainting.) Members also gave the Club an overall 8.4 rating on a scale of one to 10.
Possibly the biggest surprise for 1992 is that John Donovan won the Trail Maintainer of the Year award! (These days we’d give John an award for just finding the trail!)
And of course 1995 will always be special to me because that was the year that I found and joined the ODATC.
Our old newsletters definitely made for some interesting and entertaining reading. And from my perspective they were somewhat humbling since, aside from a few technological improvements, most of our “innovations” have actually been done before! Believe me when I say I’m not belittling any of our ongoing efforts; it’s simply that our Club has always had it share of creative, talented, and inspired members – in short, people not afraid of trying new ideas. (So much for that 36-inch sleeve that it makes it easy for me to pat myself on the back…!)
One final observation is that many of the writers who contributed to the old newsletters wrote poetic and beautiful essays in a manner similar to our ongoing Maintainer’s Journal. I found their written passions for our Club, the AT, and the wilderness to be quite inspirational.
Hopefully my little examination of our past will help me be a better leader to you and to our Club’s causes. I enjoyed what I read, and hopefully you have found some of these factual tidbits as interesting as I did.
Grand Pooh-Bah, ODATC Imperial Council
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