It's a cold and sunny Saturday morning as 13 people and two dogs gather at 10 o'clock in the Britt Festivals parking lot in Jacksonville. Seeking exercise, accomplishment, history and camaraderie, the group begins the climb up to Jacksonville's historic cemetery, the first leg on a 10-kilometer jaunt through town.
The walking route is one of 27 in the Rogue Valley designed by members of the Rogue Valley Walkers, the local chapter of the American Volkssport Association, a nationwide organization dedicated to non-competitive walking for exercise and discovery. The routes can be found in Ashland, Medford, Jacksonville, Eagle Point, Gold Hill, Rogue River and Grants Pass, and every other Saturday some of the group's 34 members will gather to enjoy a stroll through history or the scenic countryside. The local walks are among nearly 2,000 routes, mostly 5 or 10 kilometers in length, laid out by Volkssport clubs around the United States.
"Each walk is planned to showcase the community: history, landmarks, cultural points of interest," says trail master Herb Childs. "This one highlights the cemetery, the historic Noonan house, part of the old rail line and the old Jacksonville school."
Many of the walkers are retired, and the 10K length makes for a perfect morning activity.
"The 10K walks tend to take two hours for the faster folks, maybe two-and-a-quarter for others," Childs adds. "We also have a 5K option if you've only got an hour or so."
Each walk is described on the group's website at www.ava.org, including instructions to the start, points of interest and the difficulty.
"Today's walk is a '2A' difficulty," says Marie Jewett, chapter president. "The 'A' means paved and '2' is the degree of difficulty, with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the most difficult. This is a 2 because of the short, steep climb to the cemetery."
At a fork in the cemetery road, two men verify the correct route on the map they picked up in the parking lot. The map has precise instructions, including landmarks at each kilometer.
"I wheeled this off myself, so I know it's exactly 10 kilometers," says Ron Jewett, Marie's husband.
This precision is important to the volksmarchers, who record each walk in log books. An ink stamp has been created for each official walk, and to receive official credit, the log book must display the official stamp, which includes the route number.
Jewett's small backpack is covered with patches he's received at several Volkssport events he's attended around the country. Of all his patches — many of which resemble merit badges — Jewett is most proud of his "2,000" and "2,500" kilometer patches.
"I'm closing in on 3,000 kilometers," says Ron Jewett. "I know a guy who's over 8,000."
For walkers who want to beef up their totals quickly, each local chapter holds a special annual event featuring several walks starting at the same location, and walking credits are available only during the event.
"Last year we had a three-day event with several special walks," says Marie Jewett. "We had 134 people attend — many from other clubs — in Shady Cove. In 2012 we have a one-day event planned in the Cathedral Hills trails near Grants Pass."
These annual events are different from the posted "year-round events" or YREs. The YREs can be hiked at any time, and the instructions and stamps are available at an easily accessible location. Food-4-Less in Medford serves as the hub for local walks.
The Rogue Valley Walkers is one of 18 Volkssport clubs in Oregon. Sharon Freeburne, a Gold Hill resident, was one of the club's founders back in 1996.
"It's good exercise," says Freeburne. "And you get to see views you drive through but wouldn't otherwise get to see."
She also enjoys the social aspect.
"We walk every two weeks," says Freeburne. "We have a summer picnic, a Christmas potluck and a game night — we play poker."
The Volkssport tradition began in Europe and has spread to all corners of the globe.
"Tradition was that everyone in a town — after church — marched 10K to the next town to meet the people in that town and share a beer," says Herb Childs. "Then they'd stagger home."
Childs sees the volksmarches as an opportunity.
"In 2008, I did all 38 counties of Oregon," says Childs. "It gave us a chance to visit places I never would have visited."
For more information, see www.ava.org or view the video, "Everybody Walk" at www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-hISCd4v-ng
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at email@example.com