The Knoxville YMCA played a critical role in founding of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Following a suggestion by Marshall Wilson, Assistant Boys Work Secretary at the Y, and George F. Barber, Physical Director at the Y, the YMCA Board of Directors agreed to sponsor an adult hiking program. George Barber and his brother Charlie were selected to organize a trip to Mt. LeConte for October 19/20, 1924. A group of about twenty, while resting on Cliff Top, agreed that their experience should be shared by others. Subsequent meetings led to the formation of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, an organization separate from the YMCA. The first scheduled hike was to Mt LeConte on December 6, 1924 with 8 hikers. Additional hikes were scheduled one after the other through 1925. A club emblem was designed and is still used as the club emblem today. Then in 1926, a pamphlet was put together describing: the origin and purpose of the club, a list of each hikes with date and a short summary, suggested clothing and food, an invitation to join, club officers, and two photos of club outings. The following year the first yearly handbook was published with expanded information. The size and general layout of the handbook have remained the same to this day.
In the beginning and extending to the present, club members have a dedication to both enjoying and preserving the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. We did this first by supporting, promoting, and actively working to make the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a reality. Now we continue to building around our core values: enjoyment of the outdoors; education efforts to convey the many values that a touch with nature can provide; conservation efforts to ensure that these wonderful environments endure for future generations; promoting the beauty and grandeur of the Great Smoky Mountains; and helping to maintain the Appalachian Trail.
As a hiking club, our history of on-trail and off-trail adventures cover every corner of the Smokies and the surrounding areas. The hike descriptions in the handbook include key details and are often written with literary flair. The hikes are led by experienced leaders and scouted in advance. After the hike, a short description of the experience is included in the monthly newsletter.
Over the club’s history, many educational events have been held and financial support is provided to outdoor educational programs as well. Many of the early handbooks included references to maps of the Smokies, literature about the Smokies, and outdoor literature in general. Social events and photography contests have also been a mainstay of the club. An annual election of officers takes place in August at an outdoor picnic and an annual banquet is held in December.
Club members have been devoted to conservation efforts from the beginning. Highlights include supporting the formation of the park, a club member being a founding member of the Wilderness Society, leading opposition to a second trans-mountain road that was eventually abandoned, helping obtain wilderness designation for surrounding national forest areas, and contributing financially to key local and national conservation needs as they arise. The largest investment of labor by club members in support of the Smokies is the maintenance of the Appalachian Trail and the trail shelters within the park and for a 30 mile stretch of A.T. in the Nantahala National Forest, just outside the southwest border of the park. Each year our members devote thousands of hours to this responsibility. Their volunteer hours garner matching funds from the federal government that go directly to the national park.
As we look to the future, we will continue our focus on our core values and never forget the natural treasure of the Great Smoky Mountains that enriches our bodies and souls.