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Mountain Club of Maryland: Working hard at having fun!

photo of hikers posing on a rock

Today’s members; courtesy of the Mountain Club of Maryland

On Oct. 20, 1934 a group of 27 energetic men and women, led by Orville W. Crowder hiked along the Appalachian Trail from Crampton Gap to Weaverton, Pennsylvania. It was the first hike by the Mountain Club of Maryland.

The oldest hiking club in Maryland and the premier hiking group in the state is a Baltimore-based volunteer organization. Club members support Leave No Trace principles and work on local, state and national trails. They organize and lead over 300 events a year including hikes, camping, seasonal river tubing and canoe trips and backpacking weekends.

The Mountain Club of Maryland prides itself as one of 31 hiking clubs in America who share responsibility for maintaining sections of the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail. For over 60 years, the club’s volunteers have cleared storm damage and deadfall from the Appalachian Trail and worked on repairing damaged trails. As active partners with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and National Park Service, they maintain the northern-most 10 miles of the AT (as it is affectionately known) in Maryland and 32 more miles in two sections of Pennsylvania where they maintain four shelters the club has built. Monitoring teams regularly scout the boundaries of the trail corridor and check on the trail conditions. They also periodically patrol the boundaries of its sections, training volunteers in needed skills such as map reading and compass navigation. The one-day walk on the Appalachian Trail across Maryland has become a regular biennial event.

Photo of signing

Besley signs the lease, 1940; by R.W. Roessler

In the spring and fall their schedule includes service work trips to maintain and renew trails, and from time to time the club holds informal workshops to train hike leaders and learn trail maintenance techniques or backpacking skills. Volunteers constructed and continue to maintain several public trails in the Baltimore area, most notably in Gunpowder Falls and Patapsco Valley state parks. They also participate in hiking related outreach programs, often with similar organizations or the Maryland Park Service.

In the spring of 1941, members of the Mountain Club of Maryland made several visits to Green Ridge State Forest, where they helped build and maintain the Paw Paw Shelter on the slope of Town Hill Mountain. Fred W. Besley, Maryland’s first state forester, signed a lease to the shelter and also provided entertainment around their campfire.

In fact, Besley’s daughter, Helen Besley Overington, was one of the club’s early members. When the New Germany area in Savage River State Forest became Maryland’s first genuine winter sports resort, club members were among the cross country and downhill skiers who flocked to this area on the first weekend in January 1940, having advocated for a public ski slope in Maryland.

While primarily a hiking club, the organization has always taken an interest in conservation, at first on a personal level and later through its Conservation Committee. In 2002, the club received a bequest from the estate of Lester Miles, a longtime member. That original bequest, along with other bequests and donations in excess of $1,000, remain intact and invested. The dividends and interest are used to award grants to nonprofit organizations for projects in keeping with the founding goals of the Mountain Club of Maryland.

“We hadn’t walked far when the snow began, but no one turned back; and before the end of the day a hard driving blizzard had the snow to our knees. I thought it was terrific fun and a terrific bunch of people to seek this kind of pleasure on a snowy Sunday…the Club opened up new trails and a new world for many people.” –Grace Kennedy

And they’ve never forgotten how it all started. On Oct. 17, 2009 members celebrated the club’s 75th Anniversary by retracing the footsteps of that first hike led by Orville W. Crowder.

Club member Bill Saunders reports that today’s membership exceeds 800, but the group’s challenge is to recruit younger members.

“Fifty-seven percent of us are in the senior category,” he explained. “The future of our organization will depend on another generation.”

Photo of people walking in nature

Early members hike from Timonium to Padonia, 1940; by W.R. Roessler

Membership is open to anyone; no prior walking experience is required. Their year-round schedule includes hikes in the mountains and parks of Maryland and four nearby states. Taking a quick glance at the schedule for 2019, over 25 hikes are already planned for January. The schedule also rates hikes both by length and challenges. Membership grants access to a full schedule of all activities with more detailed information.

Annual dues for individuals range from $15 to 20 a year. There is also a $25 household membership and a $10 junior level membership for those under 18.

On the 50th anniversary of the club’s founding, members produced a book entitled MCM: First Person 1934—1984 filled with reminiscences of the Mountain Club’s early leaders. Again in 2009, a similar publication, MCM: In Honor of our 75th Anniversary was printed.


Article by Linda Wiley—Office of Communications webmaster. Appears in Vol. 22, No. 1 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, winter 2019.