If you fish any stream in the city of Allentown, and catch a trout or two in early summer, you have three sportsmen’s groups to thank, as they replenish city streams with trout after the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s (PFBC) final spring stockings.
Of the trio (Lehigh Fish & Game, Trout Creek and Pioneer Fish & Game associations), Pioneer is the second oldest of the three with Lehigh Fish & Game Protective being the oldest and about to celebrate their 100th anniversary.
Today, Pioneer celebrates 85 years of existence as it began life on Jan. 31, 1935 when a group of local sportsmen met at Pioneer Fire Hall (where the club derived its name), at 8th & Tilghman Streets in Allentown.
During that meeting, it was agreed members would endeavor to insure that the Jordan Creek in Allentown would be stocked regularly, and to make anglers aware of how the fish and game commissions operated.
On March 21, 1935, the newly formed group obtained their charter from Lehigh County Courts. And on March 25, 1935, Jordan Creek received a stocking of brown trout through Pioneer’s efforts.
That same year, the group helped the game commission stock pheasants, rabbits and quail on lands open to public hunting in Lehigh County. Shortly thereafter, the group decided to have an annual fishing contest and award members with prizes for catching the largest fish. And that included any member who shot the largest buck.
By the end of their first year, according to the organizations’ history, the club signed a total of 246 members with a dues of fifty cents.
In March 1936, Pioneer initiated their Reforestration and Water Conservation program for the Jordan Creek. From that, 15,000 trees were purchased and planted along the Jordan Creek. They subsequently planted 4,000 seedlings over succeeding years. In its first 10 years, the club planted over 40,000 trees along the Jordan and its tributaries.
These are but a few of Pioneer’s many accomplishments that included trapping/transferring rabbits and pheasants within the city, then releasing them on open hunting lands, working on a soil erosion program, and in 1937, sponsored a Coonhound Field Trial for the new Lehigh County Coonhunters Association.
Club membership eventually outgrew the fire hall and their meetings had to move to the American Legion Hall on S. 7th Street in Allentown. It was during that time that a picnic was planned and fishing contest held along Jordan Creek at Helfrich Springs.
Most importantly, and as it stands today, Pioneer along with their membership in Lehigh County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, cooperated in having the City of Allentown purchase the Trexler Trout Hatchery (now the popular, Lil’-Le-Hi Trout Nursery).
Pioneer was proud of the fact that with dues revenue of fifty cents, they were able accomplish all that and more.
Today, club membership has dwindled from its high of 2,314 in 1945 to considerably less today. According to Pioneer spokesperson, Mike Cech, many older members passed away and it’s tough to entice young members in todays busy climate. The club no longer charges dues but maintains through contributions that primarily helps defray cost of fish food and overall upkeep at the nursery. They used to host fishing contests but Cech said because of costly insurance requirements, the club could no longer afford to do so.
Currently, Pioneer members volunteer their time and muscle to feed the trout at the hatchery on weekends, as city workers feed them during the week. Club members also clean the many trout holding tanks at the nursery and assist in stocking fingerlings in the tanks the fish commission provides and where trout grow and eventually get stocked annually in late spring and early summer.
Aside from the work members do every Tuesday, the club’s most enjoyable job is the stocking of Little Lehigh, Jordan and Trout creeks within the city.
Todays members range from a few youngsters like Alex Seagreaves to 87-year young Al Halman, the oldest working member.
If any sportsmen or sportsgals are interested in joining Pioneer, stop by the nursery from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. every Tuesday. Members there will whole-heartily welcome you.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.