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Social striders

“Our walks are so easy, anyone can get off the couch and do them,” says Jerri Wildfong, co-organizer and longtime member of the Rogue Valley Walkers.

“We are a friendly, noncompetitive group where everyone can enjoy getting some exercise. And at this pace, you can carry on a conversation, so it adds the social aspect. Right now we have 20 or 25 members.”

Wildfong says most of the club’s walks are along city sidewalks, but they do use some paths, such as the one that follows the Rogue River between Valley of the Rogue State Park in Gold Hill and the city of Rogue River.

“What’s really great about these walks is that even though we live here in the scenic Rogue Valley, we don’t always get out and walk around. There are some beautiful neighborhoods and lovely homes that you may not appreciate just driving by in the car. Our walkers often say that they enjoy learning about different areas they’ve never explored before.”

The group often coordinates its walks with local events, such as Jacksonville’s Chinese New Year celebration or Grants Pass’ Art Along the Rogue event in October.

“We do one nighttime walk,” notes Wildfong, “and that’s in December where we meet in Ashland and tour all the Christmas lights.”

Some walks are wheelchair accessible and some are suitable for dogs, Wildfong says.

“I usually say that dogs are acceptable if they bring a responsible owner,” she says with a laugh.

The club is very accommodating to all levels of ability, Wildfong says.

“There’s never any pressure or expectations. Some people are just beginners and don’t feel up to a three- or six-mile walk, so we tell them just to walk half the distance they feel comfortable with and then turn around and head back. We had a lady last year who brought a three-legged dog. She just walked as far as she felt was good for the dog then they turned around and went back. People who walk at the same pace usually group together. Our vice president, Ron, is 80 years old and he’s usually out in front, setting the pace for the faster group.”

Rogue Valley Walkers is a part of the Volkssport Association, which is an international organization that supports family-oriented athletic events. Servicemen returning from Germany in the 1960s brought the concept back to the U.S., and now there are clubs in every state, and in a number of foreign countries. These sponsored walks are usually 5K (3.1 miles) or 10K (6.2 miles), and for a fee of $3, anyone can sign up for achievement awards such as pins, patches and certificates.

“A lot of our members keep track of the miles we walk so when we fill up the book, we send it in to the parent organization and get some kind of commemorative award that notes our accomplishment. This type of participation is still noncompetitive and done at your own pace,” she says.

For scheduled walks, the group meets at a central location, usually a parking lot, and starts out from there. In Medford they often meet at Food 4 Less, and in Grants Pass they start at the Inn at Riverside. They also walk in Jacksonville, Rogue River and Gold Hill, with an average of seven to 12 people in the group.

“Anyone is welcome to walk with us for free,” says Wildfong, “but if you do want to join, the yearly membership is only $10. If you want the walk to count toward a Volkssports award, then the registration for that is $3. And, of course, we’re always open to donations to help us keep the club running.”

Wildfong helped start the first group in Grants Pass back in the 1980s.

“After that, I dropped out for several years until a couple of years ago when I got involved again. It makes getting exercise a lot of fun, and for people who are new to the valley and looking for things to do, this is a great way to meet people.”

For more information, see www.roguevalleywalkers.com or www.meetup.com/Rogue-Valley-Walkers-Meetup

Reach Rogue Valley freelance writer Cindy Quick Wilson at cquickwilson@hotmail.com.

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Rogue Valley Walkers meet twice a month for 10K walks in towns throughout the Rogue Valley. - PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
Rogue Valley Walkers often hold themed walks, such as a Name That Park walk in Grants Pass and an Old Town walk in Medford. Sometimes they combine exercise with local events, such as Chinese New Year in Jacksonville and The Rooster Crow in Rogue River. - PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.