Howard County Times
Howard County

Volksmarching in Laurel is 'the people's walk'

Rita Goerling and her husband have been all over the world, simply to walk.

The South Laurel residents have walked in Turkey, Greece and New Zealand and have their next trip planned for Antarctica in January.


The Goerlings are members of the FreeState Happy Wanderers Walking Club that represents the Laurel and Savage area of Maryland. They have been members since 1997.

Founded in 1983, FreeState, a nonprofit walking club, has about 200 members and is one of the nearly 300 U.S. volkssport clubs that are part of the American Volkssport Association, a nonprofit that hosts over 3,000 volkssporting events a year, according to its website.


Volkssporting, which began in Germany in 1968, is a recreational program consisting of non-competitive walking, hiking, biking, swimming and, in some places, cross-country skiing, according to the American Volkssport Association website.

The most popular of the volkssporting offerings is walking, also called volksmarching.

A volksmarch, which translates as “people’s walk,” is a planned leisurely walk through a historic, scenic or other area that has a route for participants to follow with with family, friends, their dog or by themselves, according to the FreeState's website. Each walk requires participants to complete either a 5-kilometer/3.1-mile or a 10-kilometer/6.2-mile route. Walkers can participate in the volksmarches at their own pace.

Members of FreeState are from all over the area, including Howard, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, according to Linda Hassell, the club’s secretary.

To become a member, dues are $10 a year. There is no minimum number of walks a member must complete annually, Hassell said.

Members meet at the United Methodist Church in Savage on the second Thursday of each month.

Most of the regular walkers are between the ages of 40 and 75, but there are also “young couples who bring … strollers and backpacks of kids,” Hassell said. “We have a good mix.”

The club’s name is derived from Maryland’s nickname, “Free State.”


“We are wanderers [and] we are happy,” Hassell said.

Goerling and her husband, Mark Goerling, both 58, planned FreeState’s most recent walk on April 27 at the Montpelier Festival of Herbs, Tea and the Arts at the Montpelier Mansion Historic Site.

The walk “has been tied to the festival for many years and the nice thing about tying it in, is you get a lot of community involvement,” Rita Goerling said.

For the Montpelier walk, the Goerlings set up two 5-kilometer routes so walkers had the opportunity to walk one or both.

Rita Goerling said the walks vary in participation, with some having the potential of 120 walkers. Sometimes, if the weather isn’t good, the events only get about 30 participants.

The walks are “very weather-dependent and this time of year, you’ve always got to plan for the best,” she said.


Those who participated in the Montpelier walk received a history lesson as they went along the route.

Rita Goerling, who has a hobby of history, always has historical colored notes that go along with any walk she’s in charge of, giving walkers a bit of extra knowledge as they go along.

Information about the Snowden family, which built the Montpelier Mansion in the 1700s, that the festival sits on as well as the Montpelier Mansion. The other route focused on and how they made their fortune, as well as Patuxent Iron Works company, which the family founded, was printed on the route’s directions around the mansion.

The Saturday walk was the second the Goerlings have organized since retiring two years ago. She was a program manager and her husband was a computer systems administrator, both for the U.S. government. Retirement has allowed them to become more active with the FreeState group.

“It’s a great weight-loss [method] and I have lost a lot of weight since I retired,” Rita Goerling said.

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Hassell, 71, and her husband Bill Hassell, 80, joined FreeState in 1989. The Pasadena residents have walked in all 50 states and all 50 capitals through various volksmarching events.


“We like to go out and see new things,” Linda Hassell said. “It’s a way for us to travel and it keeps us active.”

The couple has walked in 27 countries, including Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Romania, Costa Rica, Canada and Mexico. They have also walked the Great Wall of China.

Some of their trips in the United States include to Oregon, the Redwoods in California, Hawaii, Utah, Maryland state parks and national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Zion, Linda Hassell said.

“It’s been very nice to be active and see different places and that’s what we really like about it,” she added. “Even in Maryland, we have been places we would have never gone.”

FreeState’s next organized walk is at Kinder Farm Park in Millersville on June 1, which is National Trails Day. All events are open to the public.

For more information about the group, go to