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Conservationists celebrate women trailblazers in event at Berks park

It’s been a long time since women first became members of the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club.

But Joan Moyer — the club’s first woman president — doesn’t want local nature lovers to forget the contributions of women who helped build and maintain the Appalachian Trail a long time ago.

In a special event Saturday celebrating Women’s History Month, Moyer summarized those contributions at the Bingaman Nature Center by Antietam Lake.

She spoke along with Linda Enders — the first chairwoman of the club’s Rentschler Arboretum Committee, and Carolyn Mohn, a long distance “through hiker” who backpacked across the trail. The arboretum is in Bernville.

The club helps maintain a 65-mile section of the trail between the Lehigh and Susquehanna Rivers, and works to encourage enjoyment of hiking and nature, according to the club’s website.

Moyer said the club was founded in 1916 as an all-male hiking club, but women pushed for membership and were allowed to join in the 1930s.

“They wanted adventure, companionship,” Moyer said. “In a Georgia club in 1933 there were four women that joined, and they were called the foolish four females.”

She said women’s interest in Appalachian Trail hiking clubs spiked in the 1930s, and by the late ’30s, some clubs had more female members than male members.

In the beginning, Moyer said gender norms for fashion still applied on the trail, and women commonly wore skirts and even high-heeled hiking boots.

But as those norms shifted, so too did the norm of all male-leadership gradually give way, thanks to the contributions of talented women.

Moyer highlighted the work of women like Jean Stephenson, a holder of four law degrees who in the 1950s served in various leadership roles — including acting chair — with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the group responsible for protecting all 2,193 miles of the trail.

“These women were defenders of the trail,” Moyer said.

Also critical were women like Ruth Blackburn, the conservancy’s first official female chair and an expert in land acquisition, whose skills helped create a continuous connected trail in the 1980s.

Moyer’s own actions over fifteen years as Blue Mountain club’s president were no small feat and included overseeing an extensive cleanup to convert an ex-dump site into a trailhead near Route 61 and helping establish more than 155 acres as protected conservation property along the Kittatinny Ridge.

She said she did face some barriers after being nominated president.

“It had been all men presidents up to that time,” Moyer said. “The previous president, the only thing I got from him to start my transition was an old magazine. I was on my own to learn.”

Enders spoke of her efforts to lead and reconstruct historical hikes in the area. She became the first female chair of the Rentschler Arboretum Committee in 2008, and still oversees upkeep of the 34-acre nature preserve, along with other areas of the trail.

The presentation ended in a question-and-answer session with Mohn, who in 2017 spent five months backpacking up the trail from Maine to Georgia.

Solo hiking the Appalachian has never been more possible for women, Mohn said.

“My mom would get questions all the time: ‘I can’t believe you’re letting her go out by herself,” Mohn said. “Personally, I never had an experience where I didn’t feel safe.”

Mohn said staying safe for her involved using common sense and establishing a strong “trail family” that she could check in with regularly once reaching trail shelters at night.

“Hikers are very good at keeping an eye out for each other,” Mohn said.

Her trail buddies nicknamed Mohn “Spice” because she always carried hot sauce.

She said she met numerous women hikers, including women in their 60s, who were hiking alone and never felt at risk.

“Retired doctors, retired lawyers, you got to meet so many interesting people,” Mohn said. “It’s about getting to hike, but it’s also about making those connections with people.”

Carolyn Mohn shows her hiking equipment as part of a question-and-answer session during Saturday’s special event. (KEITH DMOCHOWSKI — READING EAGLE)

Source: Berkshire mont

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