The 75th anniversary of AMC’s first bike trip got us thinking about how the second World War changed outdoor recreation. While WWII unfolded overseas, a host of challenges faced those on the home front, from a gas shortage to a depleted workforce. Although recreation was far from a priority, the war did much to shape AMC.
With so many men enlisting or being drafted, AMC faced a dearth of labor for its White Mountain huts. For the first time, the club hired women to work in some of the huts and closed others. AMC also helped the U.S. Forest Service recruit women to staff White Mountain National Forest fire towers.
With the nation’s manufacturing might focused on the war effort, many outdoor companies produced military supplies, and recreation gear became hard to find. Fuel rationing also had an impact. Many AMC outings were kept local and inexpensive, and as a result, members began bicycling more. The club’s first bike trip was held in September 1942: a 256-mile, week-long ride through Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
Post-war, AMC saw a gradual return to normalcy. The huts reopened, trails that had fallen out of use were repaired, and men returning from overseas rejoined the staff. But not everything went back to the way it had been. The war permanently opened the door for women’s involvement in what previously had been considered the realm of men, and a flood of Army surplus gear made outdoor recreation more accessible than ever.