The Capital Region’s ‘Best-Kept Secret’

Alan Longshore guesses he’s walked about 7,000 miles in the last 23 years. 

The 85-year-old Voorheesville resident has been a member of the Capital Region walking club, Empire State Capital Volkssporters,  for that long and continues to meet with the group for their walks twice a week. 

Before he joined the club, “I did quite a bit of walking,” Longshore says. “Probably for roughly 10 years before that. I had bypass surgery in my 50s, so I had always walked a lot and (joining a walking club) intensified it and gave it more purpose as well.” 

The club is part of a national organization, the American Volkssport Association, whose mission is to “engage Americans in lifelong walking and other noncompetitive physical fitness activities.” 

Volkssport, from the German word “Volksmarsch” (“people’s march”), was developed in Europe as a noncompetitive fitness-walking event in the 1960s. Since then, clubs and organizations across the world have instituted local versions of the movement. The Capital Region chapter alone has been active for 37 years, according to its current president, Chris Yost. 

Yost, who has been a member for 10 years, says right now the club has about 200 members, who are mainly in their 50s and older. (The oldest members are in their 90s.) 

“I have made a lot of friends through this club,” she says. “It’s funny. You join and then you immediately have 200 close, personal friends.” 

The physical and mental benefits of walking and exercise are well-documented. Those benefits are even greater for people of a certain age. According to Harvard Medical School, walking can ease joint pain, soothe arthritis and boost immunity, among many other rewards. “Several studies have found that … walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place,” the school reports. “Walking protects the joints — especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis — by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.” 

The Capital Region walking club offers walks for everybody at every fitness level. Yost says she pairs newcomers with walkers who match their pace so that no one feels rushed or bogged down. You can use maps provided by the organization and go on walks by yourself, or you can join them for their group walks, each of which includes a point of contact to guide the walkers along the routes. Walkers can choose between a 5K and a 10K route. 

“We have people that walk at all speeds,” Yost says. “When you first come we try to make sure that if it’s your first walk you walk with somebody in the club, and if that person doesn’t like that person’s pace they can find someone else next time. We have people (who are) slow and fast and moderate.” 

Friendship is a major motivator for the walkers. 

“Food, fitness, friendship. Those are the three F’s,” Yost says. “And some clubs add a fourth F: fermented beverage.” 

Debbie Hummel is a new member. At 62, she is newly retired and keen to enjoy her free time productively.

“I wanted to fill my time staying moving and doing more walking,” Hummel says. “It’s just nice to get to know somebody and just make friends like that. You get to know so many new people by talking as you walk.” 

Everyone’s out for the same reason, Hummel adds. “They want to get their workout in.” 

“There was one walk where we were walking along the Mohawk River. It was a winter day and it was windy and it was cold,” she says, laughing at the memory. “Somebody was asking, ‘Do we turn here or do we turn there? If we go down this street we’ll be protected from the wind.’ But nobody wanted to cut the distance. People want to get their full three miles or 5K in and don’t want to lose an inch. That’s their goal or purpose. For the health, aerobics, distance.” 

Members each get a little passport-like book that’s stamped after each walk. At the national level, these stamps can span whole regions. One stamp challenge is the Appalachian Trail (hiked in sections across states). Another is a 50-states challenge (Yost just finished that one).Yet another is a lighthouse walk. 

“We’re the region’s best-kept secret,” Yost says. “We like to think we’re seeing the world, one step at a time.” 

How to join the Empire State Capital Volkssporters

Empire State Capital Volkssporters Walking Club Group Photo

A yearlong membership for an individual is $12; for a family, it’s $20. To join a walk without becoming a member, it’s $4 for entry. See for membership forms and more information. 

According to the website, a typical walk is 6.2 miles (10K) and lasts about two hours. The club also sponsors five- to six-kilometer walks. Many walks take place on weekends and are designed to maximize the area’s scenic beauty. 

The group also hosts four events per year for members, a strawberry fest, an Oktoberfest, a pizza party and a holiday party. Of course, each event also features a walk.

Featured image by Robert Kneschke via Canva