NEW LONDON, Minn. — There’s a good chance that Donna Seline will be celebrating her 78th birthday this August while hiking on a trail.

She credits her love for hiking with keeping her going strong and with introducing her to the beauty Minnesota.

She was introduced to Volkssports, the people's sport, while overseas in 1972. She continued hiking or joining Volksmarches ever since her return to Minnesota. Seline has been making friends and enjoying the beauty of the state by hiking the trails in state parks and elsewhere. “It stuck with me how much we have here in the state of Minnesota,” said Seline, of Minneapolis.

She’s welcoming area residents to discover just how much beauty we have in our backyard by joining her and other members of the Northstar Trail Travelers on a Volksmarch weekend at Sibley State Park and the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center on July 17 and 18.

Every year, the Twin Cities-based club joins for anywhere from four to 10 Volksmarch hikes at state parks and other locations. One of the Northstar Trail Traveler’s new members discovered Sibley State Park on his own and put it on this year’s itinerary.

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This is a return visit for Seline and a number of club members. They made Sibley State Park a weekend destination in 2014. Seline remembers the park naturalist telling her: “It’s so nice to see your group out there walking and socializing and enjoying the park like it was meant for.” He lamented that he was seeing more and more visitors arriving in large RVs, and turning on their TVs or laptops and never getting outside.

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Getting outside and joining with friends in a healthy, non-competitive sport is what Volkssports is all about. It originated in Germany and that’s where Seline was introduced to it. She was the director for a small recreation center at an Army base. She led GI's stationed there on weekend Volksmarch hikes.

American military personnel are credited with bringing Volkssports to the U.S. The first U.S. event was held in 1975 at the Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. One year later the American Volkssports Association was founded.

Seline said Volkssports were once very popular in the U.S. During its heyday, Minnesota had 32 clubs devoted to hosting events. Willmar was among the communities with its own club, she said.

It was an idea made for Minnesota’s state parks. And until 1998, the park system oversaw a Volksmarch program, she said. The Northstar Trail Travelers now works as a partner with the state to offer Volksmarch events.

During a Volksmarch, participants walk marked trails at their own pace. They gather afterward for picnic lunches or potluck suppers. Club members record their miles and can purchase awards or certificates to mark their participation at various hikes.

Plans for the Sibley Park visit include a “hobo soup” supper, an annual tradition with the Northstar Trail Travelers club, according to Seline.

The club is one of only two remaining in Minnesota. The popularity of Volkssports has declined in recent years. The club once was host to hikes that attracted as many as 200 to 300 participants. Events now are more likely to see 50 participants, she said.

Club members are aging and it’s harder to recruit young members, said Seline. She’s hopeful that the resurgence of interest in hiking brought on by the pandemic may translate into more people getting involved with Volkssports. She’d especially like to see more “empty nesters” discover Volksmarches.

The term “Volkssports” refers to non-competitive activities including walks, hikes, bicycling, swimming or cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, according to the Evergreen Volkssports Association. The Northstar Trail Travelers focus on hikes, but also host an annual snowshoe hike.

The club had a role in introducing candlelight walks to state parks, said Seline.

The club also has a tradition in which its members take up a donation for the park hosting their Volksmarch. Since 2005, the small club has donated more than $12,700 to state parks. Since 1998, it has been host to more than 10,000 people at its events in the parks.

Seline has visited nearly every state park in Minnesota thanks to her role in the club. The club makes each visit a special occasion. A trip to parks in the northwest corner of the lake included a boat ride on Lake of the Woods to the Northwest Angle. A Volksmarch at what is now the Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park near Tower allowed the members to take a special hike in the depths of the underground mine itself.

Seline confesses that she hasn’t tallied up as many miles on the trails as some club members. She’s often busy, snapping photos of the hikers for the club newsletter, she explained.

She is also among the club members who scout out possible trails to walk for future events.

Seline will be marking her 50th anniversary as a participant in Volksmarches next year. In recognition of her milestone, she’s been given the honors of selecting next year’s destinations. They include plans for a week-long adventure in September that will include hikes in Voyageurs National Park, Bearhead and Lake Vermillion State Parks, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

If it sounds fun, well, give it a try. Seline emphasized that everyone is welcome to join the upcoming hikes at Prairie Woods ELC and Sibley Park State Park. Just show up and register at the site.

Hikers are asked to start anytime after 9 a.m. Saturday at Sibley State Park and after 8 a.m. Sunday at Prairie Woods ELC. Hikes should begin before 2 p.m. That’s when club volunteers begin removing the trail markers.

At Sibley, hikers can take part in all or any of three different loops; two are five kilometers and one is seven kilometers. The Prairie Woods hikes include two separate, five-kilometer loops.

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