Discovery Walk takes steps in Vancouver
Vancouver hosts an event with appeal for the walkers of the world
Friday, April 23, 2010
The most popular sport in which Americans participate, by far, is not basketball, soccer, baseball, football or softball. Those five combined, in fact, attract only about half as many people as walking for fitness does.
While fitness walking is often done in small groups, or alone, without ball or score or glory, more than 110 million people did it in 2009, according to the latest Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association survey on the subject. That is almost twice as many participants as the No. 2 fitness activity, bowling, which attracted 57 million players. The top team sport, for comparison, is basketball, with 24 million participants.
Vancouver doesn’t have a top-level professional sports team, like the Portland Trail Blazers, but it does host one of the two premiere walking events in the United States each year, the International Discovery Walk Festival.
If you go
• What: The 14th annual International Discovery Walk Festival.
• When: April 23-25.
• Where: The festival hub is the Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St., Vancouver.
• Cost: Ranges from $10 for one day of walking to $50 for three days of walking, biking and swimming. Free for kids 12 and younger. Group discounts available.
• Information: 360-818-4280 or http://discoverywalk.org.
That 14th annual festival, Friday through Sunday (April 23-25), offers two short routes, a half-marathon and a full marathon — as well as a triathlon option — on trails throughout Vancouver, including along the Columbia River waterfront, through the Vancouver National Historic Reserve and within the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway. The event is one of only two sanctioned in the United States each year by the International Walking Association, with the sister festival in Washington, D.C.
The Vancouver festival typically attracts hundreds of visitors to the community, including many from other countries. This year, for example, a team of a dozen walkers from Vladivostok, Russia’s largest port city on the Pacific Ocean, is registered. So are dozens of Canadians. Of the roughly 2,000 walkers who participate each year, though, most are from the Vancouver-Portland metropolitan area.
“It’s a good visitor attraction,” said Wendy Bumgardner, president of the festival’s board of directors. “But it’s also a great way for local people to reconnect with their city. There have been wonderful greenways and paths built in Vancouver during the past 10 years, and this is a fun way to get to know those.”
Unlike competitive running events, which can cost $50 to $100 for an individual registration, the International Discovery Walk Festival stresses low entry fees, basically $10 per day, and full family participation.
While fitness walkers typically are 45-65 years old, the Vancouver festival has emphasized children since its founding. “I might see just one or two kids at a regular Volkssport event,” Bumgardner said. “We always have wanted more children. So we give (kids 12 and younger) free admission and a free medal. We call the 5K on Saturday a ‘family fun’ walk.”
In turn, participation by children is roughly 10 percent, a number high enough to interest other walk organizations around the world, who have contacted Vancouver about its model. “Our event is pretty unique in that way,” Bumgardner said. “Volkssports events typically only attract seniors.”
A fine setting
Vancouver’s walk also surprises many participants with the range of amenities of the city, including those people who come from just a few miles to the south.
“Even people from Portland are impressed by the beauty of our historic district,” Bumgardner said. “This is a pre-Civil War military post, and in terms of the history of the Western United States, we’re the place. We’re the one with the national historic reserve. It’s not something buried or just a plaque in the middle of the downtown area. Here, you can really feel the experience of the old history of the fort and the military.”
Typically noncompetitive, fitness walking usually isn’t timed, and the pace is determined entirely by the participants. A lot of local people just walk one route on one day, with the shorter distances taking about an hour or two to cover.
“Our goal is to encourage walking as a healthful activity and to get people to explore Vancouver,” Bumgardner said. “Each year, over 50 percent of our participants are new to the event. There’s a novelty to that, of being out on their feet, walking trails, so we want to help them reconnect to the fact that we have all of these great paths and trails here. We hope they enjoy those after this walk, that they feel comfortable walking and they know where they can do it in the future.”