Washtenaw Wanderers Keep Fit Outdoors
Club members embrace organized walks that originated in Germany.
For those who enjoy walking, the Washtenaw Wanderers Walking Club is seeking new members. The club comprises residents throughout the county who share a common bond of love for the outdoors.
The group was founded in 2005 by Stefan Szumko of Ann Arbor, who serves as president. He is also master educator at the Leslie Science and Nature Center and editor of MAEOEgram, a newsletter for the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education.
Szumko was introduced to organized walks in Germany called Volksmarches a decade ago, when his wife was serving with the U.S. Air Force. He was impressed to see several hundred people showing up for weekend events, walking through local communities and forests and socializing over a dinner of bratwursts, pea soup and beer.
“These were like parties where walking and fitness were celebrated,” he said.
After moving to Washington, D.C., he found a number of clubs in the area dedicated to Volkssports—German for “sports for all people”—a movement that launched in the 1960s in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein. Participants enjoy activities such as walking, cross-country skiing, biking, snowshoeing, in-line skating and swimming.
When the family moved to Szumko’s native Ann Arbor, he found there were few organized walking groups in Michigan. An avid walker, he founded the Washtenaw Wanderers, who also go by the moniker of the Washtenaw Wanderers Volkssporting Club.
Most of the club’s events adhere to guidelines set and sanctioned by the American Volkssport Association. The group offers a 10K and 5K walking event and hosts three or four regular walking events each year along marked trails. These events attract up to 300 people, with some enthusiasts traveling long distances to attend.
The Wanderers also sponsor 10 year-round events that can be walked any time. The self-guided walks are in Adrian, north and downtown Ann Arbor, Blissfield, Brighton, Monroe, Northville, Plymouth, Tecumseh and Ypsilanti. Participants sign an amateur athletic waiver and get a map and directions at each starting point.
Real estate agent Deb Chapel joined a year ago to learn more about her local community, and she enjoys walking past local historical sites and homes.
“Each walk gives me the opportunity to learn more about the area I live in,” she said.
Eunice Bottorff, a longtime participant in Volkssporting in the United States and abroad, has been involved with the Washtenaw Wanderers from its inception.
“I’ve met so many interesting people,” she said. “This is also a great way to explore new areas with groups or on your own.”
Membership costs $5 per person or $10 per household. The group meets on the second Tuesday of each month at the REI store, 970 W. Eisenhower Parkway in Ann Arbor. For more information, email email@example.com.