A SUNNY BUT COOL recent Saturday morning was a perfect day for a walk. Which was a good thing for the more than 125 people who turned up at St. Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill to take one for an Emerald City Wanderers event.
Most of these folks don’t need an excuse to go walking, but being part of a group gives them another one.
Mike Nagan, this club’s president, tells me it’s “one of very, very many walking clubs around the city, the state, the country and the world” under the umbrella of Volkssport, a long-established international community of folks who make a point of walking.
The Emerald City club is known for its holiday walks, usually held the Saturday before or after a major holiday. The Halloween event is popular with families, Nagan says. (And yes: You might get a prize if you dress up.) About 200 clubs across the country are part of the American Volkssport Association, which calls itself “America’s walking club.”
Volkssporting started in Germany to encourage involvement in noncompetitive sports. The term “Volkssport” literally means “people’s sports,” and the walks were called Volkswanderung — yep: folks simply wandering.
It’s not about walking fast or even very far; most walks are 5 or 10 kilometers (3.1 or 6.2 miles). Club members map out walks with points of interest — maybe a nice view, a historic site or an excellent deli — along the way. They’ve mapped 21 in Seattle alone and more than 170 statewide. “They’re laid out by people who want you to have a good time, a good walk,” Nagan says.
You can find walks on club websites; events throughout the Pacific Northwest are also listed in a print newsletter, Northwest Pathfinder, you can order via the Evergreen State Walking Club website. At the Capitol Hill event, I chatted with Dorman Batson, who was stamping International Federation of Volkssport books for those who wanted to track this walk. (Getting the book stamped costs $3, but there’s no fee to join the walks themselves.)
Batson helped found a couple of Seattle-area walking clubs when he started in 1983. He has done walks in all 50 states, seven Canadian provinces and in Mexico, and he has taken folks on walking-themed trips. He has attended 19 of the 22 American Volkssport Association national conventions. “It’s been a fantastic adventure,” he says.
You don’t have to be a member of a walking club to join an organized walk or to try a club’s mapped-out walks on your own. But club members say that joining, which often involves volunteering, adds a more social element.
Jane Clark’s first club walk was a New Year’s event she found via a newspaper listing five years ago. She went because it sounded like a fun, healthy thing to do. Once she found out how many clubs and walks there were, and met nice people doing it, “I thought, ‘This is it. This is my thing,’ ” she says. “I made a whole bunch of new friends, and we go walking all the time.”
Along with members of other clubs around the area, Clark helped put together a series of walks departing from light-rail stations around Seattle. Part of the idea was to give people an impetus to explore neighborhoods new to them. “Walkers are always looking for something new,” she says.