My first hike with the Sub Alpine Club of America covered nearly four miles — and 90 years. If not more.
As mentioned in a previous column, about 25 people — their ages spanning seven decades — came out on Feb. 15 for the club’s 90th anniversary hike. It was essentially the same hike the founding fathers took 90 years ago to the day to an enchanting place called Wolf Pen Springs.
Wolf Pen Springs is a stone mansion dating back to the 1840s. A place rich in history, it once served as a safe haven on the underground railroad. On the day we saw it, the house was in much better shape than it was in 1930, when Frank Van Voorhis, Dr. James B. Nelson, and Dr. L.B. Walton took the club’s inaugural hike.
Van Voorhis described the abandoned house in his journal: “The building was open and we spent some time wandering through the vacant rooms and looking through old books and papers, which littered the floor. There was an old grand piano, falling apart, and I gathered some of the ivory keys, which I still have.”
The mansion was renovated starting in the late 1990s. The building and grounds sit atop a high hill, surrounded by mature forest, towering above the Kokosing River. I’ll dedicate a future column to the wonder that is Wolf Pen Springs.
For now, I’ll dwell on another marvel — the Sub Alpine Hiking Club of America. Over the past 90 years, the club has evolved and adapted. However, its mission has remained constant — the enjoyment of fellowship and winter treks through the rugged terrain of Knox and surrounding counties.
On the Feb. 15th hike, I met people who experienced the transitions from the club’s earliest days through modern times. Among them was Jim Buchwald. He’ll be 92 this month. He and Bobby Harold are members of the club’s exclusive Nelson Reed Society. A third member, Eugene Agin, will join their ranks this month. The society derives its name from the first Sub Alpine member to still be hiking past the age of 90. They don’t do full hikes but join in for part of them.
“There are hikes where I can bang along, have a good time, and believe that I’m younger,” Buchwald said.
The years have not deprived him of his enjoyment of the outdoors and his sense of humor. During the 90th anniversary hike, the group stopped for a snack. When it came time to press on, someone asked Buchwald if he was ready to press on.
“I’m ready as I’ll ever be,” he responded. “Which isn’t very much.”
Buchwald first hiked with the Sub Alpine Club in 1958. Club member James R. Israel invited him.
“I was honored,” Buchwald said. “The club at the time was a small group of the town’s (Mt. Vernon) leading citizens.”
Like Buchwald, the founding members and those who followed in for the first 50 years were primarily local businessmen, attorneys, and academics from Kenyon College. Buchwald, a Cleveland native, was an engineer who worked at Cooper-Bessemer and later founded the Ariel Corporation.
He lived out of town for several years but kept in touch with club members and returned for some of the hikes.
“I later realized how lucky I was to have hiked with the founders,” Buchwald said. “The original members were from back in the 1930s but were still active. They were alive and kicking and making some pretty long hikes.”
He recalled that, after Van Voorhis moved to Florida in the early 1960s, no one kept a journal anymore.
“Ralph Workman took over and the club continued with little communication,” Buchwald said.
However, the loose-knit — and now more diverse —Sub Alpine Club keeps on going. One thing members still have in common is their love of rigorous walks in the countryside and cold weather.
Buchwald embodies that spirit.
“It’s no fun otherwise,” he said. “I remember walking across an open field. It was 20 degrees out with 20-knot winds, and I don’t think I could have felt any happier. A long walk across an exposed meadow — you knew you were outdoors and it felt great.”
(This column first ran in the March 5, 2020, Ashland Times-Gazette.)