FOR SOME it was the last chance to make good on resolutions to exercise more in 2002; for others, an opportunity to start the new year off on the right foot.
On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, hundreds of people walked the paths of east Columbia as part of a volksmarching event sponsored by the Freestate Happy Wanderers Volks- march Club.
"We have families doing it, retirees, single people and married couples," said Bill Hassell, the club president. "Our thing is that we try to create fun, fitness and fellowship through walking. We try to get people out to see new areas and create some camaraderie and friendship."
For the past 10 years, the club has sponsored the New Year's event in Columbia. The walks generally go on regardless of the weather. Hassell said it would take a blizzard or a hurricane to get the group to cancel.
More than 300 volksmarchers enjoyed the sun and mild weather last week as they walked 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer trails around Lake Elkhorn and through Long Reach.
Some came from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Though it rained New Year's Day, 168 walkers showed up.
You do not have to be a member of the club to participate in the walks. A fee of $3 is charged for participation in the International Achievement Awards program, which issues certificates for completion of events and for distance totals.
Members of the Freestate Happy Wanderers and others purchase books to keep track of the number of events they complete and the distances they walk. Books are stamped when the trail is completed. Walkers can also purchase pins and patches to commemorate the events.
The walks are noncompetitive, but many volksmarchers set such personal goals as walking 1,000 kilometers or more during the year or participating in walks in other countries.
"People who are members of this activity like to keep records," said Phill Wilder of Laurel. "Some walk in all 50 states. That could be one of your goals." Less exotic, Wilder said, are folks who try to walk in all 23 counties in Maryland.
"My daughter and I have walked 17 of the counties this year. That's been really kind of neat," he said.
Jill and Jason Looper of Towson pushed their twins, Benjamin and Ryan, 23 months old, in a stroller and carried month-old Julia in a Snugli baby carrier for their 10-kilometer trek around Lake Elkhorn. The couple have walked more than 2,500 kilometers in volksmarching events since 1997.
Jill Looper said she welcomes the chance to get out of the house and explore new areas. Her husband enjoys keeping track of the distances they have walked and getting their books stamped. The Loopers have walked in events in 35 states.
Paula and Jerry Linn came from Severn to participate in their first volksmarch.
"I wanted to meet my 2002 New Year's resolution to do a little more exercising," Jerry Linn said. "This is the last day I can get it in before 2003."
After walking the 5-kilometer trail around the lake, the rosy-cheeked couple were breathing a little harder, but they said they enjoyed the experience and probably will try it again.
"The air was good, the scenery was good, and the temperature was just right," Paula Linn said.
Information, visit http://www.ava.org.
A flock of eagles
Chris Lee received Scouting's highest award last month when he became an Eagle Scout. The Oakland Mills High School senior is the fourth member of his family to earn the rank of Eagle.
Chris' father, Cliff Lee, became an Eagle Scout in 1966. Chris' brothers, Matt, 24, and Andrew, 21, are also Eagle Scouts.
"I just couldn't be more proud," Cliff Lee said. "It's been something that I know they have all had to work very hard for and gained a lot from."
"It's one of the biggest things for any young man. It helps them get leadership experience and positive life experiences that they'll have trouble getting anywhere else. "It has helped all three of them get into top-notch schools. The admissions people have literally said that."
Matt Lee attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology and works for Microsoft in Redmond, Wash. Andrew Lee is an architecture student at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Chris has been accepted at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.
For his Eagle Scout project, Chris led his troop in building handicapped-accessible picnic tables and garden planters at the Therapeutic Riding Center in Glenwood. He also had to earn 21 merit badges to qualify for Eagle rank.
"I'm very proud of myself for achieving the rank of Eagle Scout," Chris Lee said. "It means a whole lot to me to be the third brother to get it."
He said he felt a little pressure from his parents to follow in his brother's footsteps but added, "I really had the desire inside me to get it."