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Center Hiking Club History


The Early Years

Although you would not know it from the diversity of our current membership, the Center Hiking Club, Inc., had ethnic origins. The Club was organized in the autumn of 1939 by our founder, Abraham (Abe) Krichefsky and his then fiancÚ, Gertrude Dworkin. These two met while members of another local hiking club where, it seemed, they were the only Jewish members. Desiring to form a Jewish hiking club, they asked the Jewish Community Center (JCC), then located at 16th and Q Streets, NW, for assistance. Thus in the summer of 1939, an announcement in the JCC bulletin brought together about 20 enthusiastic persons to start such a club. While the founding father and all the charter members belonged to the JCC and considered it their "headquarters" and assembled there for the hikes, the group was never an "official" body of the JCC. The JCC, however, did provide the club with much needed support and publicity, and listed the Club's hikes in its bulletins. From all this sprang the name: Center Hiking Club. Gertrude Dworkin was its first president.

The first hike was on Sunday, 22 October 1939, along the C&O Canal between Georgetown and Glen Echo, Maryland. (This hike was re-enacted on our 50th birthday; Sunday, 22 October 1989). There were 22 participants, an unusually large turnout for a just formed club. Thereafter, weekend hikes took place on Sunday to avoid conflict with the Jewish Sabbath. Membership dues were $1.00 per year plus $.10 per hike. Hikers carpooled to the trailheads much as we do today.

In the early years, hikes took place in and around Rock Creek Park, Goose Creek (Virginia), and other local trails, with an occasional overnighter to Prince William Forest (Virginia) and Cacapon (West Virginia). Old Rag Mountain was a favorite then, too. In addition to hiking, there were other activities such as moonlight boat rides and dances on the Potomac River, an annual picnic at Beverly Beach (near Annapolis, Maryland), tours of the Naval Observatory, cruises on the Chesapeake Bay (total cost $1.50; $.60 of that for transportation), a weekend at the lodge in Blackwater Falls State Park (West Virginia) with meals included, Chesapeake Bay fishing trips, square dancing with a professional caller and a New Years weekend at Allenberry Inn Stonelodge where nearby dinner theaters were frequented.

Very active members were Mary Osin and Rafael Brenner. Several hikers married: Buddy and Irene Cohen; Reuben and Kay Smelkinson; Abe and Gertrude Krichefsky; Boris and Leona Levine; and Sy and Estelle Katz. Offspring born of these marriages became life members and had everyone in the Club as their proud foster parents: Paul and Robert Brenner, Elliot and Joan Katz, and Lyman and Lenna Smelkinson, to name a few. Some of these offspring are current members.

The Middle Years

The Center Hiking Club's middle years comprise the era from the mid-fifties to the early seventies. These years were noted for the emergence of some regular events and the flourishing of a regular group of leaders for Club activities. Some highlights of this period were; camping trips to Sherando Lake off the Blue Ridge Parkway organized by Gertrude Krichefsky (our first president) who, unlike our present style, assigned each camper a specific duty; an annual trip to Cacapon State Park or Blackwater Falls State Park (West Virginia) on long weekends with day hikes and accommodations at the lodge; weekend trips (again without camping) or day hikes to Rehoboth Beach or other Atlantic Ocean beaches; Chesapeake Bay swimming (hopefully the water was somewhat cleaner than today); Chesapeake bay fishing; fishing trips to Colonial Beach on the lower Potomac River near Westmoreland State Park (Virginia) with swimming in the morning and fishing by boat in the afternoon; and, on a regular basis, worktrips by ecology-minded members who helped clear portions of the Appalachian Trail in the area.

During this period, some rather unique events took place. In the early 1960's, Aubrey Graves, a journalist for the Washington Post for outdoor activities, hiked with us up Old Rag Mountain and took pictures of the Club members. Soon thereafter, the group picture appeared on the front page of a supplement in the Sunday edition. In 1964, we celebrated our 25th Anniversary with a banquet at the Roumanian Inn at 12th Street and New York Avenue, NW. That building no longer exists. Some active members during our midyears were Aaron Katz (president during our 25th year), Abe and Gertrude Krichefsky, Jack Glass and Erna Sternheim (secretary/treasurer). Also, Robert Semenoff, a past president for nine years (six consecutively) and a hike leader, was a prime mover of the club and a very active member who has been credited with keeping the club going for a number of years.

A very important event occurred in the Club's 21st year. We became incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia. On 21 October 1960, our Certificate of Incorporation reiterated the purpose of the Club as first stated in 1939. The incorporators of the club were: Nathan Wald, Robert Semenoff and Morton Gluck.

Recent History

Today, with a membership of over 800 (with another 500-plus associates), it is hard to believe that the club ever considered disbanding because of low membership and lack of participation. But this subject was a serious matter in the early 1970's when membership fell below 100 and the once-a-week trips were not well attended. A letter of discontinuance was mailed to all Club members to meet and discuss dissolution. Approximately 75 members showed up (a real surprise) and, after hours of much pro and con, it was decided to carry on if even only on a small scale. It was at this meeting that an agreement was made to open up the membership to the general public, not just persons of the Jewish faith.

Opening membership to everyone solved the crisis. Now, in 1989, it is difficult to imagine the Club with an ethnic emphasis or too few of most anything. We have strived to be an all-purpose club with easy, moderate and strenuous hikes on weekends,, weekdays and nights as a core from which to add backpacking, camping, swimming, biking, cross-country skiing, ice skating, picnics, tours, canoeing and extended excursions. This results from a very large pool of ever-changing volunteer trip leaders, enabling us to average three hikes per week.

During the gasoline shortage the Club went through trying times. The 1981 spring schedule prominently stated : "Quoted cost prices are subject to change." But because of the flexibility of our members, the Club operated pretty much as usual. In fact, we have members so flexible that although they live thousands of miles away, they look forward to participating in our outings when they are in town. We have members who reside or have resided in Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Jersey, North Carolina and California and as far away as Australia and Japan. Within the last several years, we had a branch of the Club in Paris, France. This was organized by Dennis Doris, Jr., when he was stationed there. Upon his return to the United States, the branch was operated by Carol Pawloski. In 1988, the branch was disbanded upon her return to the United States.

In the past, long distance trips to Florida or New York/New Jersey succeeded only because they were co-scheduled with other clubs. Lately, enthusiastic leaders have taken us to exotic places such as: Biking in Holland by Jan Zaal; Montana by Richard Myers and Ida Hayden (in conjunction with PATC); the Adirondacks (New York) by Jim Bonnet; Alaska by Richard Myers, again with PATC; White Mountains (New Hampshire) by Howard Cohn; summer in Europe by Al Burt; and canoeing in Florida by Ed Evangelidi. Similarly, we had trouble getting our biking program underway until Marc Mouallem led a fall 1983 trip to St. Michael's (Maryland's eastern shore). On the other hand, our midnight hikes stirred up interest right from the beginning; these were led by Amir Tuteja. Still it is a rare schedule that does not rely on Shenandoah National Park (Virginia), the C & O Canal Towpath (Maryland) and Rock Creek Park (D.C.). And picnics! The club has come to realize that club business is better conducted around food if a large turnout is desired. Even the hike leaders schedule-planning meetings changed from poorly attended get-togethers in a library auditorium (no food allowed) to crowded pot-luck socials [ it has been discussed that the Club name be changed to the "Center Hiking and Eating Club" , ed.]

We also have our serious charitable side. We have been involved in many projects benefiting hikers and the outdoors. Our Constitution and ByLaws prohibit spending Club funds on "causes" but we have been congratulated by officials in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia for our "people" contributions. We are also proud that a number of our members belong to the PATC and help them maintain trails in the area. We decided a long time ago not to "compete" with clubs like PATC but to complement their efforts. Even with only 3% of our trips in Pennsylvania and 3% in West Virginia, we have members that pitch in with faraway umbrella organizations such as the Keystone Trails Association (Pennsylvania) and the West Virginia Scenic Trials Association, Inc.

Other individual unsung high points include Justin Lewis immediately recognizing a hiker's having a critical heart attack, Harry Obedin carrying a very sick hiker out of an area and the Shenandoah "bee sting shock" incident. We've covered it all.

In 1982, Dennis Collins, the outdoors writer for The Washington Post, accompanied the Club on a local hike along the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia River, and he subsequently wrote an article for the sports section about his adventures with us. More recently, on 14 July 1989, radio station WAMU-FM Washington, D.C., helped the Club observe its 50th Anniversary by featuring Eli Meltzer (then Vice-President, later President), LeAnn Hensche (a hike leader), and Ed Evangelidi (a past President), on a one-hour, talk-and-call-in program. As a memento, they each received a tape recording of the show.

The Next 50 Years

(Presently being experienced and waiting to be written!)

Tidbits of Interesting Trivia

In 1980 the Club switched over to using the expanding Metro system stations as a reliable meeting area.

The spring 1984 schedule was the first time that the type size was photographically reduced (the size schedule as you now receive it).

The winter 1983-1984 schedule was our biggest, measuring 11 inches by 17 inches, and required some tricky folding to stuff it into the mailing envelope, much to the dismay of Erna Sternheim, then secretary/treasurer.

Our club has been featured in many press articles written by outdoorsman/sportswriters; but the only hikes of ours that they have participated in can be labeled as "easy".

Our schedules have been printed on white-, blue-, green-, yellow- and orange-colored paper, and in black, blue, red, green and brown ink. the spring 1985 schedule came out in green ink (first run) and black ink (second run) due to unprecedented demand. Must have been the five trips on one weekend (March 9 and 10), or maybe the 41 hikes in 13 weeks.

Washington, D.C. is reputed to have the highest percentage of hikers and outdoors enthusiasts per capita.

Our current membership includes: Ambassadors, artists, engineers/rocket scientists, dentists, doctors, freelance writers, IRS personnel (be careful what you say on a hike), journalists, lawyers, foreign service personnel and a host of other wonderful people.

In previous years, the Club elected members to such offices as: Publicity, Reservations, Sergeant-at-Arms, Service Council, Transportation, Hospitality, Sunshine and Entertainment.

Our greatest draw of new members come from people who read the tabloid sections of The Washington Times (Thursdays) and The Washington Post (Fridays). We also draw from other newspapers, libraries, outdoors/sports stores, radio stations, other hiking clubs, nature centers and word of mouth. But gawsh !! when the news media mistypes a wrong telephone number in the hike listings does some poor soul get the calls !


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