History of the Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club

History of the Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club

In 1946, the Eastman Recreation Club was part of the Tennessee Eastman Company within Eastman Kodak Company; in 1994 the chemicals division of Kodak was spun off as Eastman Chemical Company, a separate and publicly-owned company. During the 1990’s, the club changed its name from TEHC (Tennessee Eastman Hiking Club) to TEHCC (Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club), to recognize the growing interest in paddling activities among club members.

Early Years

The Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club started operation on April 28, 1946 with a hike to Clark Creek Falls, purportedly the highest waterfall (cascade) in the Eastern United States. The war was over; gas rationing had stopped; the soldiers had returned; and Frank Oglesby convinced others that the Eastman Recreation Club should sponsor such a club for recreation. Frank led this hike as he did many others, often scouting the route by piloting his plane along the route.

In the early years, single people primarily attended the hikes, and most hikes were on Sundays. In addition to many hikes, other activities were included: camping for attendance at the annual Brevard Music Festival, square dancing at Troy Powers barn, occasional long distance hiking/camping trips to Colorado, the Canadian Rockies, and Switzerland, and annual lobster dinners catered by Stan Murray. Stan also developed the Mt. LeConte creek hike during this period. He started with a similar trip by the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club, and tested the methods on the creeks of Unaka Mountain. The creek hike follows a streambed to its head, high in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to an overnight stay at the LeConte Lodge near the summit of Mt. LeConte. It was an annual and very strenuous tradition.

First Leaders

A strong leader for the social group through this period was “Doc” John Wellman who really had a rather amazing hold on the group. The club also began its association with the Appalachian Trail and the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) during this early period. Delegates from the club met with Myron Avery (ATC Chair) in Knoxville, Tennessee on November 11, 1946 (Armistice Day). The Carolina Mountain Club was having some difficulty finding enough people to maintain their section of the A.T. after the war. TEHC began helping the CMC maintain parts of their section, and was invited to take over the 6.23-mile section of the A.T. (from the Carolina Mountain Club) between the Nolichucky River and Spivey Gap in July 1947. The Roan Hiking Club, located in Greeneville, Tennessee, had responsibility for maintaining the A.T. on Holston Mountain between Damascus, Virginia and Winner, Tennessee, and in the Unaka Mountain area between Limestone Cove, Tennessee and the Nolichucky River. Mr. Paul Fink had responsibility for maintaining the A.T. on a 25-mile road walk between Winner and Limestone Cove. In October 1947, TEHC members met with Dr. Coolidge, president of the Roan Hiking Club, and agreement was reached for TEHC to assume maintenance responsibility for their section. During this period, a “Multiclub” meeting with other Southern A.T. Clubs became an annual Labor Day event.

In 1948, Frank Oglesby became a member of the ATC Board of Managers. At the 1952 biennial ATC meeting at Skyland in the Shenandoah National Park, Frank introduced a young TEHC member, Stan Murray. At that meeting, Stan made a proposal for a 54-mile relocation between Holston Mountain and Unaka Mountain. There were two primary reasons for the relocation. The first and more immediate reason was to eliminate problems growing from the increasing number of electronic facilities on Holston Mountain. The Federal Aviation Administration had constructed an omni range radar system there, and cleared an area of five acres around the facility, which obliterated the route of the A.T. In addition, television stations in the region were beginning to erect towers on Holston Mountain, further threatening the route of the Trail. The second and more far-reaching reason was to eliminate the long road walk between Winner and Limestone Cove. The plan unveiled was to reroute the A.T. over Little Rock Knob, Roan High Knob, the magnificent balds of the “Highlands of the Roan”, White Rocks Mountain, and by the beautiful Laurel Fork Falls, and a long stretch along Iron Mountain. The relocation was approved by ATC at the May 1952 biennial meeting. When it was completed in 1954, the long road walk was eliminated, and TEHC had some of the most outstanding portions along the entire A.T.

The club had responsibility for the A.T. from Damascus, Virginia to Spivey Gap, North Carolina, currently about 135 miles. Frank Oglesby and Stan Murray were the leaders in this movement. Stan Murray became a very strong advocate for the A.T. and A.T. maintenance. A maintenance procedure was developed, consisting of 13 maintenance teams each assigned a portion of the A.T. and expected to do needed work, including the paint blazing on that section each year. The teams rotated north by four sections each year so that over 13 years a team would maintain the entire section of the A.T. maintained by TEHC. Particularly outstanding work in the relatively early days included building two bridges over Laurel Fork using old truck chassis as piers, and the rock shelter in Laurel Fork Gorge.

Frank Oglesby nominated Stan Murray for the ATC Board of Managers in 1952; Stan succeeded Murray Stevens in 1961 to become the fourth Chair of ATC, a post he held for 11 years. About 1960, the social/recreation-hiking portion of the club suffered a serious setback. John Wellman abruptly left Eastman and East Tennessee without warning or announcement. This devastated many hikers and some never hiked with the club again. The hiking program was quite slow for a time. Clark Johnson and Hugh Thompson were two individuals who acted as chair to hold the club together during this time. The maintenance program was relatively unaffected. In the mid-1960’s, national changes gave a tremendous surge to the popularity of hiking and backpacking. Climbers in the Himalayas and those working in the space program had developed new lightweight materials and preparation methods (freeze-drying, nylon, plastics, high profile pack frames, etc.). These materials and methods made camping equipment and food much easier to carry and use. Food became easier to prepare and tastier. Backpacking became easier and more comfortable. The environmental movement and to some extent the antiwar movement made wilderness, camping, and “getting away from it all” much more attractive and an “in thing” to do.

Club Growth

Several club members took over the club leadership and seized the opportunity to change the club greatly and expand its activities. Zellie Earnest, John Kiefer, Don Kreh, and Charles Fletcher, Jr. were the main ones who led the club to new heights. The hiking portion of the club was adapted more to families and the hikes were normally held on Saturdays. The club became more involved in conservation issues such as participation in the “Save Our Smokies” hike to discourage road building in the park. Canoeing was added as a major activity and Canoeing became part of the Club name in this period. As examples of the club’s popularity: A strenuous spring hike in 1965 to Chimney Top drew 54 hikers on a pretty Sunday afternoon, although many did not reach the summit. Ray Hunt led a spring wildflower hike to the Jeb Stuart Estate in Virginia with more than 100 in attendance and some making the trip to the estate in school buses. Fortunately, it was an area rather than a trail hike; it never became organized, with people going in all directions. Several people started annual long-weekend spring backpacking trips on the A.T., which led to many club members completing the Appalachian Trail over a period of years.

During the 1970’s, a series of long distance hikes/backpacks/tours was taken. These included several backpacking trips to the Colorado Rockies, and tours to Switzerland and England. A.T. backpacking trips went from long weekends nearby to weeklong trips to the Shenandoah National Park, and annual trips to Maine, complete with insertion in remote sections of trail by floatplane. With the Carolina Mountain Club, South Beyond 6000 was initiated, with membership given to those who climbed the 40 6000′ peaks in the Southern Appalachians. Several TEHCC members soon qualified for membership.

Also during the 1970’s, more A.T. maintenance teams were organized. The club hosted the 1975 Biennial Appalachian Trail Conference meeting at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. This was by far the largest ATC meeting to date, with over 1,100 attendees, and introduced many novel features such as many, many workshops with choices for A.T. issues, trail skills, nature study, photography and many more, and an extensive schedule of hikes in the week following the business meeting. This set the pattern for all biennial meetings since that time. All have had similar activity schedules and attendance. Ray Hunt, the club chair, became known to many ATC people through outstanding leadership of the A.T. Guidebook Preparation workshop, which brought together all the section editors for the first time. He was soon on the ATC Board of Managers and later was the Chair of ATC from 1983 to 1989. In 1973, an annual Canoe School, also known as the “Introduction to Whitewater Clinic” was initiated, with an evening of classroom instruction and two days of instruction on the Nolichucky River; the school has been very popular and continues to this day (in coordination with the Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts). In 1979, another paddling tradition started – an annual trip on the Bluestone River in West Virginia – with Class I-II+ whitewater under very scenic conditions, and first-class overnight accommodations on the river at Mt. Creek Lodge.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the club developed stronger relations with the A.T. community, improved processes for maintaining the A.T., and new concepts for A.T. management. The A.T. Committee within TEHCC became a strong influence on A.T. management and maintenance, and provided continuity as individuals and their roles changed. TEHCC developed strong relations with the U.S. Forest Service (landowner of the A.T.), and with ATC which had hired local representatives to advise A.T.-maintaining clubs. The club developed significant influence with “Agency Partners” (federal and state agencies with whom TEHCC jointly manages the A.T.). TEHCC may have more Agency Partners than any other A.T.-maintaining club, since the Club manages and maintains the A.T. on lands owned by three National Forests (in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina), TVA, the National Park Service (in Virginia around Damascus), and the town of Damascus. Written agreements on authority and responsibilities with those agencies were put into place. Maintenance and construction techniques were greatly improved by working with ATC’s Konnarock Crew and with ATC itself, to learn techniques for side hill digging, maximum trail grades, chainsaw safety, water bar construction, etc. Maintenance activities started to draw much more participation than recreational hikes. Meetings of all sorts – A.T. Committee meetings to develop policies and procedures, two annual scheduled meetings and many other meetings with the Forest Service, weekend Southern Regional Management Committee meetings each March, and many meetings with special interest groups – were put into place. Awards and patches were developed to recognize those who were most active. More Trail teams were organized. Trail “Adoption” procedures were developed so people and organizations could take over trail sections. Special work crews started handling large maintenance/construction projects. A program to devote the Third Saturday of each month to special A.T. maintenance needs was put in place. Wilderness areas along the A.T. have provided special protection and special maintenance problems. The club built numerous bridges with the growing number of retirees in the Club providing most of the work. Collins Chew, Bruce and Mary Cunningham, Carl Fritz, Bob Peoples, Joe DeLoach, Ray Hunt, Ted Malone, Darrol Nickels, Frank Oglesby, Ed Oliver, Steve Perri, Bill and Derrick Stowell, Frank Williams, and Jack Young have been particularly active and effective in many ways.

The TEHCC Today

Currently, the club has two dinner meetings annually. The club newsletter has greatly improved during the 1990’s, and TEHCC.org was launched in March 1996. In addition, the club has continued its long tradition of sponsoring long distance trips. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, there were trips to Yosemite National Park in California, the Uinta Mountains in Utah, the Wind River Range in Wyoming, Isle Royale in Lake Superior, the Canadian Rockies, Maine, and an ascent of Mt. Whitney in Sequoia National Park in California. Long distance trips have again become popular in the 2000’s with trips being in concert with the ATC Biennial and other activities. Many backpack/day hike combinations on the A.T. were made, and more than 20 club members have now completed the entire A.T. Day hikes are scheduled on most weekends. Many paddling trips, ranging from Class I/II to Class V, are scheduled each year. River clean-up trips (usually on the Nolichucky River), and week-long trips, which have included the Rio Grande River in Texas, the San Juan and Green Rivers in Utah, the Salmon River in Idaho, and the Allagash River in Maine have also been scheduled.

Increased hiring by Eastman in the middle 2000’s fueled more growth in the TEHCC with total membership climbing over 600. Renewed interest in section hiking the AT, completing the SB6K challenge and trail maintenance has caused participation to increase significantly. The annual trail maintenance event Hard Core has made a huge impact with regards to trail maintenance. Started in the year 2000, it is the Sunday and Monday following Damascus’ Trail Days and gives current and past thru hikers the opportunity to give back to the A.T. The Club uses the event to complete large projects in a short amount of time. Many major relocations and shelter renovations have been made possible by this event.

A busy event schedule, reliable maintainers and plenty of adventures nearby means that the TEHCC is well positioned for the future.

by Collins Chew

Additional information provided by: Steve Banks, Brad Dayvolt, Ed Montgomery, Frank Oglesby, Jeff Siirola, and John Thompson

Edited by Steve Banks and Jake Mitchell