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April 2014:

Volkssport Clubs Keep on Walkin’ With Support From Local Businesses

By Susan Kim, Staff Writer

April 1, 2014

Posted in: News

You’d be surprised at how many businesses in your neighborhood have a partnership with what’s known as a volkssporting club.

Volkssporting, translated from German, means “sport of the people.” It’s is a noncompetitive, self-paced activity consisting of walks and hikes, bike rides, swims, skating, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. While fitness is a major component, equal emphasis is also placed on providing a safe, stress-free environment where everyone can have fun with a group of like-minded individuals.

The most popular volkssporting event is the “volksmarch,” a 10K walk that can occur on a road, bike path, dirt trail or even indoors.

In Maryland, volkssporting most often takes the form of trail walks, which occur year-’round, in many different locations. “All of our clubs are volunteer-run,” said Stephanie Sánchez Sinclair, the national executive director of the American Volkssport Association (AVA). “It’s amazing the number of hours people pour into making these events happen.”

Local clubs have a strong representation on the volkssporting scene. The Freestate Happy Wanderers — which covers Laurel, Savage and other communities in Howard and Prince George’s counties — has 125 members. The Columbia Volksmarch Club also serves local volkssports participants by hosting special walks and year-round events.

These two clubs are just two of AVA’s nationwide grassroots network of more than 250 clubs. AVA, in turn, has been a member of the International Federation of Popular Sports founded in Germany since 1979.

30 Years On

The Freestate Happy Wanderers Club is one of nine volksmarch clubs in Maryland.

The club hosts annual events such as a New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day walk from the Owen Brown Village Center in Columbia. That event has been taking place for more than 20 years, said Bob Wolfe, club president.

Next month, on May 24, the Happy Wanderers will host a walk from Savage. On Sept. 6, the club will also host its annual walk commemorating the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

With regular meetings at the United Methodist Church of Savage, the club is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In those decades, the Wanderers have held more than 300 events spanning the entire breadth and height of Maryland, from Ocean City to the east, from St. Mary’s City to the south, and from Hancock and New Market to the west and north. Walks have also started in such local venues as the Montpelier Mansion, Snowden Hall and Dinosaur Park, all in Laurel.

Since the club’s founding, local businesses have helped support volkssports participants. Comfort Shoe Source in Glen Burnie has offered special deals on shoes for the Wanderers, and local affiliates of the company Walking Adventures (which is represented in all 50 states) regularly give talks to volkssports fans.

Walking Through Winter

The Columbia Volksmarch Club, formed in 1984, recently hosted a walk through Western Regional Park, in Glenwood. In the summer, the club hosts a series of walks, one of which will be in Centennial Park, in Columbia; on Oct. 18, the club will host a 10K walk through Belmont Manor and Patapsco State Park, in Elkridge.

In addition to special walks, the club also offers a series of self-guided, year-round events, said John Dye, club president, who noted that local businesses play an important role in its success.

At the start of self-guided walks, volkssports clubs place a portable file box that contains the details of the walk. That includes information such as how long the walk will be, trail directions, significant landmarks, and places to stop and take a rest.

“You’d be surprised at how many businesses in the Columbia area house walk boxes that support volksmarchers in their wanderings,” said Dye, noting the group’s longest partnership, with Feet First in Columbia’s Hickory Ridge Village Center.

Gas stations in Columbia Crossing and Long Gate Shopping Center in Ellicott City (both owned by longtime volksmarcher Larry Jackson) also serve as starting points for walks.

The most popular business starting point during the long winter? Starbucks at The Mall in Columbia, said Dye, because it’s the starting point for an indoor stroll.

Celebrate

World Walking Day is May 8, and volkssports clubs throughout the mid-Atlantic will be planning events the weekend before and after to commemorate the day, said Atlantic Volkssport Regional Director Dave Scull.

“We’ve ordered certificates for all of our clubs in the region,” he said.

He joined Wolfe and Dye in emphasizing the important role of local businesses for volkssporting events.

“A lot of starting points are at coffee shops and businesses of that nature,” he said, adding that hotels, restaurants and visitors centers are also prime candidates for hosting boxes with details of self-guided walks. “We look for a business anywhere close to the trail that is typically open every day,” he said.

As volkssport participants gather information, they often make a purchase in the process. “We get a place to keep our box, and they get some walk-in business. It’s good to work together,” said Dye.

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