Volksmarchers hike across hill and dale for fun and fitness Piney Run event draws 700 walkers from near and far

November 30, 1992|By Bill Talbott | Bill Talbott,Staff Writer

From novice to veteran, they walked.

From infant to senior-senior citizen, they walked.

From individuals to families of 10 to groups of 30, they walked.

They came in all sizes, shapes and ages.

They all walked in the 16th International Volksmarch over the weekend at Piney Run State Park in Eldersburg.

The weekend event was sponsored by the American Volksport Association (AVA) and conducted by the Piedmont Pacers, a segment of the Westminster Recreation Council. The AVA, part of the International Vereinigen Verbund (IVV), has member walkers in 16 countries in Europe, plus Canada and the United States.

Japan is expected to join the international organization next year.

Volksmarching is a non-competitive sport that began in Germany in 1968. It was brought to the United States by armed forces personnel and government employees who took up the sport in Europe.

Helen Lewis, president of the Piedmont Pacers, said yesterday that 700 people participated in the two-day Piney Run event.

There are no trophies, cups or awards given for the fastest walker or for the person who might complete the 6.2-mile (10-kilometer) walk more than once, although many of the participants purchase pins or patches commemorating the events to display on their hats or jackets.

Chuck Merkel, the Piedmont Pacers' trail master, said people from many states around Maryland came to Piney Run "just for the health of it."

One group of 14 people came from Canada to participate, he said.

"You can see walkers of all ages, from those in their 80s to some in backpack carriers strapped to their mother's or father's back," he said.

Many of the people who join the "marches" do it entirely for the pleasure of communing with nature. Traversing the hills of Piney Run, they saw deer, birds and myriad small animals.

Some carried walking sticks that appeared to have traveled many miles over hill and dale.

One of them, Bill Marsland, 69, of McLean, Va., completed his 440th Volksmarch yesterday. Although he walked only 10 kilometers this time, he appeared capable of doubling the distance.

"I started the sport in Germany in 1986 while working there for the government, and walked in Austria and Switzerland while in Europe," Mr. Marsland said. "I walk almost every weekend.

"I walk for my health and for exercise, and it's fun. You meet some friends while strolling along, and talk of other walks in this country and even of walks in Europe. Some of the people you chat with have also walked many times in Europe. It brings back good memories.

"One of the trips I will always remember was in August of 1990, when I was one of about 5,000 Americans . . . allowed to go into East Germany and participate in a walk in that country. There were over 20,000 people in all. It was before the unification, and the wall was still up, but the guards were gone. Those things you remember."

At checkpoints along the Piney Run trail there were refreshments for the walkers and water for the dogs who came along with their owners.

"In Germany, at most of the checkpoints they provide refreshments, including beer," Mr. Marsland said.

Coming to the finish line at Piney Run just behind Mr. Marsland was Carole Gardiner of Laurel, a newcomer who said she became interested in walking last year after she fell and broke her clavicle while riding her bicycle in a 30-mile ride.

"Though biking is my first love, this is something you can do in all types of weather," she said. "This is my fourth walk, and it's fun to stroll the paths with your friends and observe nature."

Ms. Gardiner walked yesterday with a cycling companion, Mary Ann Mullerleile, of Ferndale in Anne Arundel County, who completed her 50th journey.

"I have walked in a number of states, including the state of Washington," Ms. Mullerleile said. "My husband, Michael Woodall who also walked Piney Run yesterday] has been on about 40 walks, and we have walked on both sides of St. Louis, once in Illinois and once in Missouri. We just love it."

Dennis Lynch of Laurel, a member of the Free State Happy Wanderers club, has walked Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Greece and Luxembourg.

"My goal in walking is to promote international cooperation, and I think it works," he said.

Participation in Volksmarching is free unless you want to qualify for achievement awards or purchase patches or pins, said Joanne Murkel, a finish-line worker.

There are more than 700 Volksmarching clubs and more than 2,000 events scheduled each year in the United States, Pacers officials said.

The Piedmont Pacers started their club in 1987 and now have 80 members, who also participate in health fairs and mount a SWAT team to assist in cleaning Route 97 of trash dropped along the roadside.

For information on Volksmarching and the Piedmont Pacers, call Helen Lewis, 848-2480.

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