More than 8 years ago, I was a member of the OCSJ, for a few years and enjoyed many wonderful hikes and kayak trips, not to mention bus trips to Washington DC and picnics and parties. Finally, I left when my declining physical abilities made it too difficult for me to do hikes of 6 miles or to get in and out of a kayak. When I was a member, however, I thought someone should try to collect the history.
To my complete surprise when I tried to contact the founder, Bert Nixdorf, he was alive andbiking in New England though in his 80's. He has since passed away but I feel honored to have made his acquaintance. I left the club before I had a chance to make any progress on the history but I wanted to preserve the small introduction that I had begun, so I thought this would be a good place for it. I was a newbie and only starting down the trail so this is no 'history' only an introduction to a possible future history, but perhaps it might be of some help to anyone else in the future taking up this task.
by the way, it was also my great good fortune to find Bert Nixdorf's book on bike trails at Murphy's Book Loft before that venerable book barn closed. That book is a treasure to anyone with an interest i the OCSJ, and almost impossible to find these days.
So here, cut and pasted, is that rough draft of a start on a search for the history of the OCSJ. Please forgive any errors or misunderstandings you might find within it.
Happy Trails! Jo Ann
The History of the Outdoor Club of South Jersey
through interviews with Joe Trujillo and Christine Denneler
revised March 9, 2008
The Outdoor Club of South Jersey started in Mount Holly in 1967. Two couples, Bert Nixdorf, his wife, along with Dale and Kay Knapschaefer really initiated the club. Bert Nixdorf was a school principal. These couples liked the outdoors and started walking around Mount Holly together. The group grew to about six people walking around the Smithville area, in the woods up near Rancocas. Their earliest organized hikes were out of Lake Oswego. Everybody pretty much knew their way around out there. There was a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in that area and that’s where they began to run hikes.
In 1970, Norah Hayes, a botanist who originally came from England, designed an “Edible Plants” walk around Oswego Lake. Nixdorf was a bike rider too. He did D rides of about 25 miles. Another couple who were early members would lead rides around the Chatsworth area. Sometimes Bert would lead a bike ride on one day of the weekend and a hike the next day.
When they decided to make it a more officially organized club, Bert wrote it up and advertised it in the Shoppers’ Guide. He affiliated his group with the A. Y. H., the American Youth Hostels. They were the umbrella group. They supplied a logo and Bert added a cartoon character to it, a little hiking guy somewhat like a Charles Schultz’s Peanuts character.
In 1980, Bert Nixdorf wrote the following note about the start of the club: “The club was formalized with a constitution and by-laws in 1967, at the home of Dale and Kay Knapschaefer. The club was quite informal in the beginning with only two or three activities per month. When the Knapschaefers left the area, Bert Nixdorf, then vice-resident, took the helm by default. Past presidents (of those early years) were: 1967-68, Dale Knapschaefer; 1968-70, Bert Nixdorf; 1970-71, Walter Hayes,; 1971-72, Joe Sigona; 1972-1981, Bert Nixdorf.
In 1970, the club affiliated with American Youth Hostels. Membership in 1970 was less than 50 persons. Slowly the club increased its membership as well as its activity program. By 1973, the program ran year round with the addition of water course explorations and moonlight hikes. Membership was between 450-500. By 1975, bicycle rides and a Wilderness Survival Course, had been added to on-going activities. Membership had risen to around 750.
Eventually, Nixdorf began to combine camping trips with the hiking and biking. The A. Y. H. ran a lot of camping trips and travel hostel trips and the early OCSJ began to put them in their schedule.
Nixdorf would lead hikes and bike trips on woods roads and he liked to get in the water, too. Pretty soon he added tubing trips to the schedule. Advertising in the Shoppers Guide brought about 60 regulars into the group. Evan’s Bridge was a popular spot for the tubing trips. We would hike up to Godfrey bridge carrying inner tubes and wearing bathing suits, then we’d float back down to where the cars were parked.
Once or twice a month, Bert held moonlight hikes. There was nothing comparable in the South Jersey area.
In the early 1970’s, Nixdorf got a column in the Burlington County Times, a weekly column. He wrote about nature and the hiking, biking, camping and tubing trips they were having. After Knapschaeffer left, the club became more official and Bert Nixdorf served as the second president. He served two terms, not consecutively, and he incorporated the group with an official hierarchy consisting of a president, vice president, treasurer, and recording secretary. The club was run out of Bert’s house. At first, he mimeographed a newsletter from his home. Then he got hold of a good printing company to do the newsletter.
The current president, Kathleen Pearce is the historian and holds the archives where there are copies of the original newsletter and scrapbooks that show the kinds of things we did. Dave S. kept the scrapbooks up to date for us.
During the 1970’s, Bert developed short hikes of about 6 miles, boating that he titled “Water Course Explorations” which were mostly out of Atsion, Evans Bridge and Oswego Lakes, and bike rides out of Mount Holley. During this early period, Bert also wrote two books. One was called “Hikes and Bikes” and there was another book that was only bike rides. Bert had a long tenure, from the 1970’s up to 1981. He developed and built the club during that decade. He did most of the leading and only had one or two other leaders for each of the other areas of activities. During that time we also branched out into back packing, sometime in the middle 1970’s.
Participation in activities was one of Bert Nixdorf’s great joys, the more members attended an activity, the more he enjoyed it. Some highlights of his most popular activities were: “Swan Migration trip to West Meadows in 1972, 30 attended. The record turnout for the swan hike was in 1978 when 157 hiked to view the swans. Based on turnout, moonlight hikes were most popular. The first one was held in 1970, a six miler out of Vincentown. On average moonlight hikes attracted 50 – 100 persons in those days. The famous Halloween Hike in 1977, brought out an overwhelming 280 for something special, donuts and cider. We bought for an anticipated 1800. We ended up slicing doughnuts into 1 inch slices, and giving everyone a sip of cider. The line in the dark was a half a mile long. Several members are still in the club who recall the famous incident.
In her own words, here is Christine Denneler’s memory of that event:
“I joined the OCSJ in 1976. The first hike I went on was the Halloween hike
of that year. I went along with my mother, Betty Carroll, and my aunt Annamarie
Seifried who is still a member and has been co-leader of the Harper's Ferry ATC
volunteer trip for more than 20 years. We arrived at the hike along with 200 other participants! It was a beautiful moonlit night. All I could see was the dust from 200 pairs of feet. When we stopped for a break my mother sat down on a piece of broken beer bottle and punctured her butt ( not a serious cut, Mom was tough!!) But she never went hiking with the OCSJ again. In spite of it all Annamarie and I were hooked. Within a year or so we were leading hikes and serving on the board of trustees. Annamarie is one of the signers of our incorporation papers. I was hiking chair for almost 20 years.”