Kanawha Trail Club celebrating 75th anniversary of hiking adventures
On July 26, 1942, 35 intrepid men and women gathered at Mission Hollow, near Kanawha City, to undertake what would be the first-ever hike of the Kanawha Trail Club.
Two factoids about the inaugural event: The club was then known as the Daily Mail Hiking Club, and a leading proponent of the endeavor failed -- intentionally -- to take a single step on the trail.
The first step to 75 years and thousands of miles of exploring West Virginia’s wilderness at usually daytime and sometimes overnight excursions originated in the offices of the Charleston Daily Mail. Daily Mail reporter Sol Padlibsky started writing “feeler” articles to gauge interest in establishing a community hiking club. With a lede that began “Kanawha Countians soon will heed the alluring call of rustic hillsides, hollows, creeks and scores of generally unfamiliar nearby scenic spots,” Padlibsky introduced the Daily Mail Hiking Club’s first hike to the area -- and launched the 75-year-old Kanawha Trail Club.
He and local Boy Scouts of America executive M.H. Kinsey organized the club from public response. Kinsey, who had come to the Boy Scouts in Charleston in 1919 and was a rugged outdoorsman in his own right, served as the route advisor. Assisting him were Scout Trail Blazers, individuals who had logged 1,000 or more miles hiking to earn the Trail Blazer distinction.
Former Trail Blazer Bill Rippetoe led the first walk in 1942. At the Mission Hollow meeting spot, Padlibsky walked about 100 yards from his photographer colleague’s car -- and then did an about-face at the foot of the trail, wishing the other hikers well.
Longtime KTC member and unofficial club historian Carl McLaughlin of Cross Lanes recounted the event during an April 13 presentation at the South Charleston Public Library. “Padlibsky gets out of the car, walks up to the trailhead and says goodbye to his cameraman and gets back in the car. That’s as close as he got to doing a hike with us,” McLaughlin said.
Two years later, the Daily Mail Hiking Club, comprised of 54 members, was chartered. In 1945, the group was renamed the Kanawha Trail Club. Dartmouth College graduate Harry W. “King” Cole was elected the first president and was instrumental in the development and growth of the group for many years.
Along with the hikes -- which required many members to ride city buses to and from the starting points, KTC activities included dances, picnics, bridge parties, pie-eating festivals and a formal spring dinner. Holiday treks included Memorial Day hikes at Babcock State Park in Fayette County and a fall getaway to Watoga State Park in Pocahontas County.
Over its 75 years, the KTC has built and continued relationships with the Buckskin Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association and the Kanawha State Forest Foundation, among others. In 1987, the KTC and WVSCTA worked together to open the first southern West Virginia link to the Appalachian Trail, the nearly 21-mile Groundhog Trail across Peters Mountain in Monroe County. The KTC continues to work with the KSFF on upkeep and maintenance of the forest, including recent work on the Salamander Trail and assistance with the annual Osbra Eye Memorial Wildflowers Walks last month at Kanawha State Forest.
... and now
The Kanawha Trail Club is observing its 75th anniversary throughout 2017. Outings are planned for favored sites of the 1940s explorers, such as Babcock and Watoga parks.
An anniversary party is scheduled this summer for the current roster; all former members are encouraged to contact the KTC and attend, as well. The celebration is slated for 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 15, at Habitat for Humanity of Kanawha and Putnam, 815 Court St., Charleston.
An anniversary dinner is also being organized for December.
KTC President Sharon Cook of Teays Valley joined the club in 2004. She returned to her hiking hobby then, after her children were grown, and she is now introducing her grandchildren to the flora and fauna of the trails. Numerous families take part in the walks, she said, of among the 100 or so current members who travel from Huntington, Beckley and Pennsylvania, as well as around the Kanawha Valley.
“It’s an eclectic group. We have many master naturalists in the club. Sometimes, guests come along; you don’t have to be a member to go on the hikes. Sometimes, they become members later,” Cook said.
While hikers span the spectrum in age, “it’s mainly a middle-aged group,” she said. “We have one hiker in his 80s who’s very active. The majority of them are middle-aged; most are like empty nesters. We do have some in their 30s and 40s. It’s a wide range of ages.”
KTC members also have varied interests and motives for becoming regular hikers, Cook added.
“There’s a variety of reasons people do it. Some people are very knowledgeable in plants or birds or history. We have other people who just like to get out, walk up and down mountains, cross streams or just go on an easy trail. They may start out wanting exercise, but it is a social group; you develop some lifelong friendships. People who’ve had a change in their life -- a death, a divorce or something else that’s changed -- come and find it’s a real good way to get their bearings. They also discover they have an interest in nature and seeing other parts of our state and out of state,” Cook said.
Over the past year, KTC hikers have tackled and trod CabWayLinGo State Park, Babcock State Park, Beech Fork, the Long Point and Endless Wall trails at the New River Gorge, Eleanor City Park, Little Creek Park and the trails at Kanawha State Forest, said KTC member and naturalist Barb Koster.
“We usually do Sunday afternoon hikes that typically meet at 1:30 p.m. at the corner of Ohio Avenue and Randolph Street, in the parking lot across the street from the Stonewall Station Post Office. Occasionally, we will do a Saturday hike and sometimes a night hike at Kanawha State Forest,” Koster explained.
“It’s not often you’ll find a club in existence for 75 years,” McLaughlin said, “but we made it.”
For further information about the Kanawha Trail Club and upcoming hikes, anniversary celebrations and other events, visit www.KanawhaTrailClub.org or call Sharon Cook at 304-687-4934 or Kathy Hastings at 304-343-3779.
The Kanawha Trail Club has scheduled the following hikes and other activities through June and later in the year. Unless noted otherwise, hikers meet at the designated times at the corner of Ohio Avenue and Randolph Street in Charleston, in the parking lot across from the Stonewall Station Post Office and carpool from there.
• Sunday, May 21, 1:30 p.m.: Charleston Tennis Club CTC (regroup at the lower parking lot of CTC, 1600 Tennis Club Road, Charleston). Explore a new hike on recently developed trails behind the tennis club. Hike is about three miles with some steep grades; footing is generally good. A shorter version is available.
Leader: Chuck Wirts
• Sunday, May 28, 1:30 p.m.: Meet at Ohio Avenue and Randolph Street to pick a leader and a hike.
• Saturday, June 3: National Trails Day. A variety of hikes will be held at Kanawha State Forest, Beech Fork and other state parks and forests. See wvstateparks.com/events for a full listing of locations and times for hikes.
• Sunday, June 4, 1:30 p.m.: Kanawha State Forest, Snipe/Mossy Rock/Middle Ridge, approximately four miles on moderate trails. Some rocky sections and a steep descent.
Leader: Ron Cockeram
• Sunday, June 11, 12:30 p.m.: Stonecliff Trail. Easy out and back hike along the New River, up to five miles.
Leader: Kathy Hastings
• Tuesday, June 13, 6:30 p.m.: Hike Co-Ordinators Meeting, West Virginia Room, South Charleston Library. Come and volunteer to lead a hike.
• Sunday, June 18, 12:30 p.m.: West Virginia Day hike and celebration at Kanawha State Forest, a mostly easy, two-mile hike on the Davis Creek and Spotted Salamander trails. Return to the swimming pool area to celebrate West Virginia’s birthday with the Kanawha Forest Foundation.
Leaders: Roger Hardway and Sharon Cook.
• Sunday, June 25, 12:30 p.m.: Ben’s Run Trails in Spencer. Hike to the Chestnut Ridge Winery and Artist Colony. Approximately three miles round trip on moderate trails with a steep, rocky descent.
Leader: Lois Ludwig
• Saturday, July 15, 5-8 p.m.: 75th Anniversary Party at Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Charleston.
• Friday, Sept. 8-Sunday, Sept. 10: Fall Outing at Watoga State Park.
• 75th Anniversary Dinner: TBD.
For updates and additional information, visit www.kanawhatrailclub.org.