The History of the Blue Mountain Eagle Hiking Club
On June 15, 1916, Dr. Harry F. Rentschler took a group of men from the Reading, PA area who liked to walk in the mountains to an eagle's nest on the Blue Mountains above Shartlesville. They enjoyed the climb so much that they planned to revisit the eagle's nest and the Blue Mountain eagle became the symbol for their climbs. They formed the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club on October 12, 1916, when the first official hike was held to the eagle's nest. William F. Shanaman was elected president of the new club and Dr. Rentschler was named secretary.
In 1926, planners of the Appalachian Trail contacted the Club. Club members were asked to locate and build 102 miles of trail through the wilderness along the mountaintop from the Lehigh River to the Susquehanna River. Monuments, cabins, and rest stops were built along the way. After five years of volunteer labor, dedication of the completed section was held on October 12, 1931.
In 1937, the Club formed a corporation under the name of the Blue Mountain Wilderness Park Association. Its purpose was to acquire and own the land in order to protect the Appalachian Trail.
During the 1950s and 1960s, some trail sections were given up to newer clubs to maintain.The Blue Mountain EagleClimbing Club currently maintains a 64.4 mile section of the Appalachian Trail along the Blue Mountains from Lehigh Furnace Gap Road to Rausch Gap with the exception of a section between Bake Oven Road and Tri-county Corner.
In April 1970, the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club and the Wilderness Park Association, having always had a common governing body, were legally merged. In 1975, the Club adopted a new constitution and by-laws. Click here for a more detailed BMECC history Keepers of the Appalacian Trail.
The Club is affiliated with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Keystone Trails Association.
BMECC Mission and Objectives
• To preserve the forests, protect the wildlife, and promote and encourage mountain climbing, hiking, camping, and the appreciation of nature.
• To assist in and provide for the preservation and perpetual protection of the Appalachian Trail (specifically on the Blue Mountain between the Lehigh Gap and the Susquehanna River).
• To construct and maintain shelters, arboretums, and other facilities for public use and enjoyment.
• To acquire for the above purpose by purchase, lease, gift, grant, devise, or otherwise such tracts of land as may be necessary.
• To provide a program of activities whereby members can enjoy nature and each others' fellowship.
Trail Maintenance and Volunteer Projects
Club members and other volunteers perform on-going maintenance, clean-ups and repairs on the Appalachian Trail, Shelters, Arboretum, and various other projects throughout the year. Each section of the Appalachian Trail that the BMECC maintains has a caretaker. Caretakers hike their section and identify areas needing maintenance. Monthly work trips are scheduled to improve areas identified. Repairs are also made to the shelters including new roofs, privys and more each year. Clean-up projects are completed on a section of Route 183 and the Skew Bridge in Reading. Are you ready to help improve the beautiful Appalachian Trail? Find all work trips on our schedule.
The Rentschler Arboretum, a beautiful, 34-acre tract of land on a high vista in the foothills of the Blue Mountains near Bernville, Pennsylvania, is owned and maintained by the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club. The property includes gardens, wildflower meadows, a walking trail, farm fields, a nature sanctuary, the Rentschler Pavilion, and the Kalbach Pavilion (where monthly club meetings and special club events are held). The grounds are open to the public during daylight hours. See the Photo Gallery
The Arboretum was formerly the property of the Club's founding father, Dr. Harry F. Rentschler. In 1925, Dr. Rentschler and his wife, Sadie, had purchased this land as a retreat from his busy medical practice in Reading. These were the same hills young Harry had roamed as a boy when his father owned the Eagle Hotel in Bernville.
In the 1930's, Dr. Rentschler planted a grove of pine trees on the sloping western edge of his property and erected a simple one-room frame cabin (left) at the head of a path leading to the spring at the base of the western slope. He wanted few improvements ... they hiked down the steep path for water and a wood stove was used for heat and cooking. The solitude of this place he called the "Nestle Inn" was enough. He must have gazed often at the panoramic view of the Blue Mountains from the height of his land, where he could follow forty miles of the Blue Mountain ridge and know that his beloved Appalachian Trail was there.
Rentschler's later life was so deeply devoted to the conservation and hiking group he had inspired and led since 1916 that he wanted the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club to hold and preserve this place of solitude when he was gone. He therefore wrote in his will that the Club would take ownership when his wife no longer used the property. He also willed the Club a trust fund of $5000 for maintenance. Rentschler died in 1942 and Mrs. Rentschler continued to use the cabin retreat through the war years and occasionally thereafter. The BMECC then moved forward with the plans for an arboretum on the 34.615 acre property.
On October 18, 1959, the initial tree planting took place at the newly-named Rentschler Arboretum. The first tree honored their revered founder, Dr. Harry F. Rentschler. A large crowd on this occasion included the Pennsylvania Secretary of Forests and Waters, who made the dedication speech. Work at needed clearing of brush began under the leadership of Henry L. Kalbach, Club member and resident of Bernville. At least 40 workers turned out in January 1960 to begin the clearing. In the 1960's the arboretum was used for outings such as the Mother's Day Picnic and occasionally a Spring outdoor meeting when more and more trees were planted and dedicated to deceased members of BMECC. A formal plan for the arboretum was drawn up. Teachers were invited to bring Bernville school children up to the new arboretum where they were led on walks by Henry Kalbach. Henry's devotion to the Arboretum continued for the next 17 years.
In 1968, fire destroyed the quaint "Nestle Inn", which, by now, had often been used for scheduled daytime membership events. The Rentschler Pavilion (left) currently stands at the site of the Rentschlers' beloved cabin.
A new "clubhouse" (below) was erected the following year. Later, it was dedicated Kalbach Pavilion to the memory of Henry L. Kalbach, who had guided the development of the arboretum for 18 years. Members provided much of the finish work, such as exterior painting and interior trim.
Extensive use of the property for club-sponsored programs began in the 1970's. Club members organized backpacking seminars where light-weight tents, stoves, and other new equipment were demonstrated outdoors. The Club's trail and arboretum maintenance equipment was stored here. The Club directors meeting place changed from Court Street in Reading to the Kalbach Pavilion.
The arboretum provided visiting Appalachian Trail work crews a place to stay when working in the region. One significant occasion was the day A. T. Conference officials met at Rentschler Arboretum with local clubs to designate the official route of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail through eastern Pennsylvania using aerial photographs of the marked footpath.
Henry L. Kalbach died in 1975 and was honored for his long devotion to the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club and Rentschler Arboretum. His son, Henry Jr., took over the reins of leadership until his death. Henry, Jr., a public school teacher, introduced inter-city youth to the outdoors through school bus excursions to Rentschler Arboretum. Some had never been out of the city and had to be coaxed to leave the bus.
The "Wednesday Work Crew" was formed to continue the Kalbachs' work. It consisted of retired members who faithfully maintained the grounds until age or physical condition no longer allowed them to continue. The present arboretum committee includes a member of the work crew. Improvements to the property have also been made with the help of Bernville Boy Scout Troop 422 (Eagle Projects). Regular work trips take place every Friday, weather permitting.
Directions to the Rentschler Arboretum from Reading, PA
Take Route 183 North to Bernville. Turn right onto Washington Street. Go one block to the stop sign. Cross Main Street and continue on Washington Street for just over a mile (Washington Street becomes Arboretum Road on the other side of the cemetery.). Look for the Arboretum sign on the left. Pull in the driveway and you will see the Kalbach Pavilion building on the right.
Rentschler Arboretum Photo Gallery
In the News
The Reading Eagle Newspaper has covered many events for the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club starting in the 1920's. There are interesting stories of the clubs beginnings and great historical photographs. See the listing of news stories.
The Historical Society of Berks County has an article on their web site which is a well written account of the BMECC history "Keepers of the Appalacian Trail". It goes into more depth than we have on this web page. The author is the late Paul R. Lehman of Laureldale, PA, who was the archivist of the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club. He had maintained the Appalachian Trail over the Pinnacle for 35 years.
President's Message - Summer 2013
Greetings BMECC Members:
It is with motivated anticipation and humility that I am now the elected President of the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club and Wilderness Park Association and writing this to you. With more than 15 years as an active member of this organization and having taken on a variety of roles, I feel qualified to accept this new role.
Let me make clear that the BMECC&WPA needs each and every member. That means we, as volunteers, can make a difference no matter how much time you decide you do or don't have to volunteer. We are like any other organization or even a family. We will disagree on matters from time to time and from issue to issue. The goal remains to move forward together as long as we remain mindful of the objectives of our organization as stated in our by-laws.
The challenges of today are many. Some are but a continuation of what BMECC has done for years. The maintainers have cleared their trail sections, freshened up faded blazes, and now the Appalachian Trail, and other trails, are full of hikers from all different parts of this county, state, country, indeed from all over the world. They use the shelters and other facilities we provide and enjoy the joy of nature on foot.
Other challenges include the intrusion of modern society/technology on the A.T. We will remain vigilant on this front. The Berks County EMS system is a recent example of this. Many hours have been spent at meetings where this issue has been debated. Letters have been written and I believe more is to come. The membership voted to not engage in the mitigation process with Berks County in a vote at the meeting on Sunday, June 9th. This does not mean we have abdicated our responsibility as stewards of the A.T. Distinct differences of opinion surfaced during this discussion. We will continue to move forward together. I welcome your comments any time on any issue and look forward to serving in my new role for the next 2 years.
Guidelines for Hikers:
• Advise the leader if you leave the group for any reason.
• Never disturb plants or animals.
• Leave your pets at home.
• Carry all trash back out with you. If you pack it in, pack it out.
• Do not smoke.
• Be responsible for your children.
• Cross roads in a group.
• When walking on roads, keep on the left side in single file.
• Stay behind the leader.
Guidelines for Leaders:
• Keep the completed sign-in sheet with you during your hike.
• Be sure you or someone else on your hike has a cell phone in case of emergency.
• Be familiar with the hike route and parking arrangements.
• Take a head count before, during, and after the hike.
• Be prompt, start on time.
• Carry a whistle.
• Call nature breaks during the hike.
• Call attention to points of interest when appropriate.
• Have maps or directions prepared for drivers, if necessary.
• Stay in front and have a coleader at the rear and keep within sight as often as possible.
Cautions and Disclaimers:
• Be safe! Always wear blaze orange during hunting season.
• Every attempt is made to assist and encourage hikers, but we cannot be responsible for the safety of them on the trail. Any rugged activity entails risk and we know each participant will rely on his own judgement and good sense to take care of himself. Know your limitations. Look after minors accompanying you. Children are welcome, but anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.