Volksmarching traces its roots to Germany in the late 1960’s. Translated, “Volksmarch” = “People Walk”. Hiking and walking enthusiasts would work together to organize events that mixed together hikes of varying lengths with cultural activities and opportunities for the participants to socialize. I was first exposed to a volksmarch that was organized as a friendship activity between American military personnel and the people who lived in the community that was hosting them (click here to read my story about a traditional volksmarch event in Bavaria).
Volksmarching is now a subset of the “Volkssport” movement that over the years has expanded to more than 25 countries worldwide. In the USA, the national organizing body is the American Volkssport Association (AVA), a 501(c)3 non-profit which is headquartered in San Antonio. AVA defines volkssport as “a personal fitness sports and recreation program offering noncompetitive walks, hikes, bike rides, swims, and in some regions cross-country skiing”. Volksmarching remains the most popular of the various activities. According to Candy Purcell, the operations manager at AVA, there are about 250 active, state and local affiliates throughout the USA that sponsored more than 1800+ volkssporting events last year and these events collectively attracted nearly two hundred thousand participants. The AVA tagline, “friendship, fun and fitness” is a very accurate match to my experiences.
Volkssport events are organized by the local affiliates and generally come in two varieties: “Traditional Events” are those that are scheduled on a particular date or dates and are attended by groups of participants. Routes of varying distance are offered and there are “manned” checkpoints along the way. Individuals, families, and other groups can start when they choose within a published time window and can complete the course they choose at their own pace. Routes are selected for scenic, historical, and cultural significance. Route lengths of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) or 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) are typical but it is not unusual for longer routes to be offered as well. There is often a gathering at the finish to provide opportunities for socializing, cultural activities, and refreshments. There were about 700 traditional events held last year in the USA.
“Year-round” events are standing courses that are available to anyone who wants to complete them on any day of the year. Completion is generally on an honor system and is self-monitored and reported. These routes are also selected for scenic, historical, and cultural significance. A self-service “start box” is generally located at a place with good accessibility (and a public restroom!) to provide directions and instructions. There were about 1100 of these events offered last year. [Read about a beer-themed, year-round event in Germany]
The routes are classified by a standard rating system developed by AVA so that participants know what to expect in terms of the character and difficulty of the workout. The events must meet criteria established by AVA in order to be sanctioned by AVA. The AVA publishes an annual directory of both types of events.
According to AVA, the average volkssporter is a “baby boomer,” in his or her mid-fifties, and usually an “empty-nester” either approaching or beginning retirement. The ratio of female to male participants is about 60%-40%. Membership in AVA or a local club is not a requirement to participate, although surveys of club members indicate that 84% travel out of state on a regular basis to participate in events. Many arrange their travel around opportunities to participate in volkssporting events.
AVA coordinates a system allowing both members and non-members to track and receive credit/recognition for their participation in the events. You can set your own goals for the events you want to take part in, the places you want to visit and hike at over time, or the mileage you want to complete. Or you can just take advantage of the events offered without setting any particular goal or reporting your participation. If you do want to use their tracking system, a small fee is often charged for each event that helps support the administration of the system and the local clubs who do the work to offer the events.
Candy, the AVA Operations Manager told me that she thinks the biggest reason to be a Volkssporter is the health and longevity benefits. “We still have people in their 80’s and 90’s walking. Friends are made for life in this organization and many meet in Europe. There are events around the globe. Our Tag Line truly says it all Fun, Fitness, and Friendship.” Much of this comes from the efforts of volunteers. “I have been here for 17 years and I have never met a harder working group as our volunteers, as friendly, or caring.”
One of those volunteers is Joanne Forinash, the Southwest Regional Director on AVA’s Board of Directors. I caught up with Joanne on the phone while she was preparing for walking in a traditional event near Austin. “Our challenge is to continue to try to reach a younger demographic and encourage family participation.” She related that the AVA demographic has aged over the years and that she is interested in helping the organization to do more to attract a younger demographic. “There are volksmarches for everyone. This is a non-competitive activity that is perfect for families who care about health and who enjoy great scenery and places with interesting histories. A grandfather and a six year-old can have a great time sharing a volksmarch.
I live in New Mexico and I have completed the various year-round events facilitated by the Double Eagle Hike & Bike Club, the AVA affiliate in northern NM. I recently walked the 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) versions of the two year-round events offered in Santa Fe, the State capitol and the images above and those that follow provide an example of this kind of event. There are also 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) variations of each of these routes. The Double Eagle Club also offers year-round events in Albuquerque and Los Alamos that are well worth the walks. There are also other clubs in New Mexico offering events in the Raton and Las Cruces areas. A West Texas club offers events in Ruidoso. Captions, when provided, appear above the corresponding photos.
The “Santa Fe Capital Adventure Volksmarch” starts and ends at the New Mexico State Visitor Center in downtown Santa Fe. The 10K route is a fun route through the “City Different” as Santa Fe is sometimes called. Santa Fe is among the oldest capitol cities in the USA and this routes takes you through a great bit of that history as it makes its way through the downtown, Fort Marcy, and Canyon Road districts. Galleries, museums, shopping stops, restaurants (red & green chile and more!), coffee shops, historic monuments, public art, watering holes, and more are in ample supply along the route. It is a great way to get oriented to old Santa Fe.
Family of walkers (looks like one rider) outside the starting point … enter the Visitor Center and ask for the Volksmarch start box. Inside the box, you will find route guides, start cards, and other useful information for completing and registering your walk with AVA.
The “St. Johns Skywalk Volksmarch” route also starts and ends at the New Mexico State Visitor Center in downtown Santa Fe but takes you a bit off the beaten track along the “Acequia Madre” (the “mother ditch”) that neighborhoods have grown up around for centuries toward the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, St. John’s College (yes … that St. John’s has a campus in Santa Fe), and past the many museums of Museum Hill before descending back down the original route of the Old Santa Fe Trail. This walk offers relative quiet and solitude.
Museum Hill offers many museum opportunities … the route passes many of the museums.
Interested in more hikes in New Mexico and elsewhere? Check out the index to articles on Prime Passages …