The sidewalks were slushy, but that did not slow down the Empire State Capital Volkssporters one bit. The bundled-up group of 30 walked briskly down Broadway toward Tricentennial Park as they started their 10K Albany Capital and Revolutionary War Historical “volkswalk” on a sunny late January Sunday.
A volkswalk is a non-competitive walk through a scenic and sometimes historic area, over a pre-marked trail. Volkswalks are typically 10K, or 6.2 miles. A 5K, or 3.1-mile route, is often offered as well.
The Empire State Capital Volkssporters group is part of the American Volkssport Association, which has 300 clubs throughout the U.S. The clubs sponsor more than 3,000 walking events, bicycle rides, swims, and snowshoeing outings annually. All events are open to the public.
The group’s parent organization, Internationaler Volkssportverband, headquartered in Germany, hosts events in Europe, Asia and beyond.
The 300 members of the Empire State Capital Volkssporters volkswalk throughout the region. Walking is their central activity. This year, the club will hold 10 one-day walking events, 15 seasonal group walks, and 18 Wednesday walks. Walks can also be completed independent of the group.
Routes are rated according to difficulty, and many are handicap accessible. Walk sites range from Peebles Island in Troy to Lake George to Cooperstown.
Usually, between 50 and 75 walkers turn out for the events, depending on the weather, estimated Tad Darling, the club’s membership chairman.
Past group president Bernie Geren, 70, of Charlton, has been in the club since 1999 and has volkswalked in 43 states. He’s planning to check off Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky from his list in a few weeks.
Since he started hoofing it with the club, he estimates he’s walked 525 kilometers, or about 326 miles.
“It’s a good club. It’s fun, friendship, and the exercise,” he said.
Ed and Emily Koch of Niskayuna bring their share of fun to the group.
“This is my trophy wife,” Ed, 81, said playfully, smiling at Emily.
“This is my first husband,” Emily, 80, quipped in reply.
The two have been club members for 20 years and said they enjoy spending time with the other club members.
“If you have any problems, too, you walk along and you tell everybody your problems and [your problems] all go away,” Emily said.
Local volkssporters pay dues of $10 per year to participate in club events, and can also buy distance and event record books, which are used to keep track of distances walked and event participation.
After certain milestones are reached, record books can be redeemed for a certificate of achievement, a patch or a pin. The accomplishment is also printed in “The American Wanderer,” the national association’s bimonthly publication.
There are special books to keep track of the states volkssporters have walked in and also ones where they can record theme walks they’ve done.
“They do lighthouses, American Revolution walks, railroad walks, so if there’s one of those activities or places on the walk, then you can get that special book stamped,” explained Larry Godshalk, 61, of Glenville, who has been a club member for about 7 years.
Godshalk likes the fact that the club has a national component to it.
“I went out to Phoenix and Las Vegas a couple years ago to visit family and I wanted something to do on a morning, so I just looked up on the website and found that the Las Vegas Club was doing a walk around UNLV, so I met up with them,” he said.
Many hotels and YMCAs have “walk boxes” that contain maps of local volkswalking routes that can be done independently, he said.
Darling, 65, noted, “If you’re traveling somewhere and you just want to break up the trip, you can go and do a two-hour walk — most of them take about two hours — hop back in the car and continue on.”
Club member Rita Gavin, 73, of Glenmont, who has been walking with the group for about 12 years, enjoys the educational component often incorporated into the outings.
“I like the idea that you learn more about the places you’re in than if you just went on a tour or just went there by yourself. You get to see places that you don’t normally see,” she said.
The Albany Capital and Revolutionary War Historical volkswalk brought walkers to Albany highlights, including the governor’s mansion and City Hall.
Offering an incentive
The walks, which are held about once every other week during winter, are good incentive for Lucy Desjardins, 65, of Niskayuna, to get out and exercise.
“If I hadn’t been doing this walk, I wouldn’t be walking probably,” she said.
The majority of club members are 55 and over, but the group is open to anyone, Darling noted.
“Many of these people are very, very active, and well into their 80s,” he said. “They may not do the 10K anymore. They might do the 5K option — most of our walks have a 5K option — but they get there and they move right along.”