Volkssporting: This season’s perfect getaway

People enjoy the outdoor walking opportunities at Horseshoe Bluff, inside the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area in Dubuque. Photo by Dave Kettering. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering Telegraph Herald

Main Street in Galena, Ill., will be on a featured walk during the 2021 American Volkssport Association’s conference in Madison, Wis. PHOTO CREDIT: Visit Galena.org Contributed

The Mississippi River can be seen from atop Pikes Peak State Park outside of McGregor, Iowa. Telegraph Herald file photo. PHOTO CREDIT: TH file

Volkssporting opportunities also can be found in Mount Vernon and Libson, Iowa. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

Lincoln Highway in Mount Vernon, Iowa, is one of the Greater Des Moines Volkssport Association’s sanctioned walks. Photo contributed. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

Clubs often offer challenges to walkers with special programs. Photo contributed. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

Summer will soon be upon us.

Usually, that means vacations, festivals, barbecues and a myriad of outdoor events centered around food, family and warm weather.

It’s a safe bet that this won’t be a usual summer, but for volkssporters, there will be no shortage of outdoor recreation opportunities.

Volkssporting is the art of walking. Also known as volksmarching, it became popular in Europe, particularly in Germany, in the 1960s.

The “sport of the people” or “people’s march” is a form of non-competitive walking that allows people of any age to walk sanctioned routes, making it a perfect activity for families.

“That’s one of the attractions of it,” said Don Suloff, a trailmaster for Dairyland Walkers, a volkssporting club based in Madison, Wis.

A veteran of 800 walks and 10,000 kilometers, Suloff began walking while living in Washington, D.C., more than 20 years ago.

“I often will walk by myself,” he said. “But families can do it together. My daughter did her first walk in a baby sling on my chest.”

Suloff said volkssporting is something that can be started at any age and at any physical level.

“We’re flexible in the distances we set our walks up for,” he said. “Traditional distance is about 10k (6.2 miles),” he said. “Most of our walks have a 5k (3.1 miles) option, so it’s not so intimidating.”

Peggy Watts, a trailmaster for the Greater Des Moines Volkssport Association, agreed volkssporting is perfect for individuals, making it a great social distancing activity.

“If you want to do it yourself, you’re more than welcome to,” she said. “Each walk is labeled with the distance and ranked for the difficulty of the terrain, so it’s easy to choose something you know you can do.”

Watts has completed 800 walks, with 8,000 kilometers in distance. She began keeping track of her walks in 2002, although she’s been walking for much longer.

“We like to brag about how many miles we clock,” she said. “We’re a very social group.”

Volkssporters interested in keeping track of their walks can request record books from the national American Volkssport Association. Stamps can be earned through year-round walks, which are walks available at any time, or through traditional events where walkers gather during a certain time frame at a walk staffed by local group members.

Many traditional events in the coming months have been canceled, but Samanta Sanchez, community and publicity specialist for the AVA, said individuals and families can walk sanctioned routes, and virtual online programs let people convert their daily activities into steps or explore the Appalachian Trail.

“Individuals can spring clean, do some gardening, yoga or dance around the house and convert their movements into steps from the safety of their own home,” she said.

The Appalachian Trail program lets participants hike portions of the 2,200 miles of forest and wilderness by averaging 5,500 steps per day.

Suloff and Watts said that their goal in creating routes is to highlight the area’s beauty, whether that be in a state park, in a historic part of a city or along rivers and lakes.

“The walks are set up to showcase an area,” said Suloff, who has completed walks in all 50 states. “The idea is to create an interesting and attractive route.”

“We try to find new walks in the community that will spur interest and keep people coming out,” Watts said.

Watts and the GDVA have created “20 Iowa Parks in 2020” as part of the celebration of the Iowa State Parks’ centennial. Locally, Mines of Spain State Recreation Area is one of the sanctioned walks on the list.

“It’s just a small part of what we have,” she said. “We have many walks in cities, city parks and other places.”

Those stamped books kept by volkssporters can earn pins, medals and certificates ranging from distance awards to awards for completing a certain number of walks or a particular event walk.

When social distancing rules relax, Sanchez said volkssporters will look forward to getting together once again.

“Our walks are a great way to meet new people,” she said. “Clubs have occasional social events, and love to gather after events for a nice treat.”

Suloff is looking forward to the national AVA conference, which will take place in Madison in 2021.

“We’re creating special walks in Madison, and in Galena (Ill.), Oconomowoc, Green Bay and Sparta (Wis.),” he said. “We already have 400 rooms booked.”

Perhaps most importantly: Volkssporting is an activity that doesn’t cost much.

“The biggest expense is good walking shoes,” Watts said.

Michelle London writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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