Good Life

Meet the walkers: Nittany Nomads discover new friends, neighborhoods

Members of the Nittany Nomads chat and laugh as they walk on the Penn State campus on Sunday, March 8, 2015.
Members of the Nittany Nomads chat and laugh as they walk on the Penn State campus on Sunday, March 8, 2015. CDT photos

Sure, walking has numerous proven health benefits, but members of the Nittany Nomads are in it for other reasons, too.

There are the new places to explore, the time to catch up with old friends, the chit-chat, the laughs.

Still don’t believe a walking group isn’t solely focused on health and fitness? Sometimes there’s the ice cream, too.

Earlier this month, about a dozen Nittany Nomads met at Penn State’s Berkey Creamery and for a jaunt around campus for the first group activity of the year. When it gets warmer, the group’s every-Monday neighborhood walks will start again.

Most members can’t wait.

“I enjoy just getting out with friends and having a little guaranteed exercise,” neighborhood walk organizer Bob Shepherd said.

‘Secret is in the companionship’

The Nittany Nomads formed more than 20 years ago as a volksmarching club, though it’s now exclusively a walking club for the most active members. So while everyone who joins weekly neighborhood walks must be a dues-paying member of the Nittany Nomads, most do not submit record books to the American Volkssport Association.

The twist on tradition is just fine with State College resident Fred Welch, who is a founding member of the club and himself an active volksmarcher. When it comes to exercise and motivation, Welch said that you can’t overstate the power of numbers.

“The secret is in the companionship,” he said. “If you walk by yourself, you tend to have 900 excuses about why you shouldn’t walk.”

Throughout the spring and summer months, Nittany Nomads take turns planning the weekly neighborhood walk. Held on Monday evenings, the excursions are usually 3.1 miles, equivalent to a 5K race, only without competition.

“There’s companionship and we get to walk to places that we don’t normally walk, neighborhoods we’ve never been to, even though we’ve lived here for 35 years,” said Ruth Holter, a longtime group member with her husband, Harvey Holter.

‘Competitive to find new places’

That was the idea that Sharon Rolley, of Bellefonte, had when she introduced neighborhood walking to the Nittany Nomads years ago.

“I suggested that we do it so that the Nomads could walk and socialize together — apart from scheduled (volksmarching) events — and, as a bonus, better acquaint ourselves with different neighborhoods in State College,” Rolley said in an email.

For Terry and Nancy Stambaugh, who joined the Nittany Nomads about five years ago, shortly after moving to State College, the walks helped them learn about local parks and neighborhoods.

“It’s a really great way to not only meet new people but to see the community,” Terry Stambaugh said.

Routes usually aren’t repeated throughout the season, said group member Gary Mitchell, of State College.

“It’s almost competitive to find new places,” he said.

The walks are open to people of all ages, and anyone can join the Nittany Nomads at any time. While group member Ann Shepherd said she often hears people say they’re too busy to join, she said the time commitment is actually minimal.

“I just tell people, ‘All you need is to come about an hour a week and you get to meet people and get exercise,’” she said.

For more information on the neighborhood walks, contact Bob Shepherd at 237-5759.