The year is 1918. Esther McCarty has just returned to Cleveland from a trip to the nation’s Capitol where she had joined a hiking club based in Baltimore. Surely, she thought, Clevelanders would be interested in walking with a group. She convinced her friend Edna Wooley, a columnist for The Cleveland News that the newspaper might be a source for gauging interest in such a club.
On March 17, 1919, Edna’s column ran a notice about a meeting to be held in the Euclid Arcade just for this purpose. Surprisingly, 200 people gathered just one week later to talk about such an organization. Less than one month after that, on April 20, the Cleveland Hiking Club was formally organized.
Edna and Esther were big thinkers. In 1919, The Cleveland news reported “A membership of 1,000 is the goal of the newly organized Cleveland Hiker’s Club.”(note: not sure when the name was changed to the Cleveland Hiking Club). This new organization had more than 100 people on its first hike. Membership peaked in 1921 with over 150 hikers, but dipped during the Depression. Over the following years, growth was slow but always uphill. Membership grew from 300 (1986) to 600 (1992) and now stands at over 1000 members.
Early members of the Club always entertained thoughts of a campsite or clubhouse. After a lot of research and looking, the Club bought a 10 acre site in Hinckley in 1933. Much of the construction work for the site was actually done by the hikers. A contest to name the site was held when the buildings really began taking shape in 1938, and the site was christened Camp Onwego on September 16, 1939. Since that time there have been major additions and improvements to the site and club members often gather to enjoy the beautiful wooded surroundings.
In 1919, after the first surge of membership, several members encouraged the club to award mileage credit to help maintain interest. Beginning in January 1920, mileage has been recorded for all members. Three club members have recorded more than 50,000 actual miles, and one of those has recorded more than 62,000 miles.
It’s a bit easier to accumulate miles now than it was in those early years. In 1920, there were fewer than 20 hikes scheduled in a month. Now we may have more than 300 hikes scheduled in a month with the majority of them about 5 miles in length. Special long hikes first appeared early in the history of the club. The first 26 miler was in 1922 and the first 40 miler was in 1925. There are also many special annual hikes such as the Frozen Waterfall hike, 16 Ridges, President’s Hike, Chili Dog hike, Bird Hike, and the Bluebell hike.
Hiking is not always a local event. There are club trips out of town, out of state, and out of the country. Favorite destinations are our own National Parks, Europe, and Canada.
Two club publications first appeared in 1936. Newsteps, a monthly publication, evolved from earlier mimeographed sheets of paper to the current 10-14 page newsletter. The club’s annual Directory, also officially approved in 1936, originally contained the names, address phone numbers and current mileage of all members. The current directory also has email addresses, birthdates (month and day only) officer and committee listings, and top mileage awards.
And yes, there are also Social events. These may include potlucks, social evenings with interesting speakers, Holiday parties, cookouts (club members love to eat), or bonfires at Camp.
For many of our members, the Club becomes part of their extended family. We develop close friendships while we have a great time hiking and staying healthy. Edna and Esther would be very pleased to see how that first newspaper article has fostered one of the oldest and biggest hiking clubs in the country.