"Most of us know that we need to be more active in order to stay healthy," said Sutton. "Walking is the easiest, least expensive way to get in some good exercise. When a group of us 'walk 'n' talk' together, the time flies by, and we've covered miles before we know it."
Sutton invited community members to come out for a walk on the morning of New Year's Eve in 2007, knowing that many people would be making New Year's resolutions about getting more physically fit. This would give them a head start on that worthy commitment, he thought. As the inventor of the first digital (and only certified accurate) pedometer, Sutton knew research shows walking 10,000 steps per day is the desirable goal for wellness. However, after three New Year's Eve walks, Sutton also knew that it would take more than an annual event to help people make a change to a healthier lifestyle. That's when the invitation to "walk 'n' talk" together became weekly, with an e-newsletter announcing meeting places for what he dubbed World Walk to Wellness.
Anyone can obtain the free newsletter, sponsored by Sutton's company ACCUSPLIT, by sending a request to walks@WorldWalkToWellness.org.
"We have had as few as three participants (in a driving rainstorm) and as many as 72. A couple of weeks ago, 63 people showed up for a special tour of Sunol Water Temple arranged by group member Solveig Shearer," said Sutton. "We walk rain or shine, unless the rain is blowing sideways. So far, we have never canceled a walk, thanks to this great climate we live in."
Most of the walks are on level, paved pathways, lasting 1 to 2 hours. In spring and summer, walks begin at 8:30 a.m. In late fall and winter, they begin at 9 a.m.
Now in its third year, World Walk to Wellness has explored nearly all of Pleasanton's 42 public parks, plus Shadow Cliffs Regional Park, Livermore's Sycamore Grove trail, and parts of nearby Sunol. Sutton has encouraged others to be guest leaders, known as "Walk Stars."
Two of the most popular Walk Stars are philanthropists Nancy and Gary Harrington. They set the attendance record, with 72 people showing up on a foggy Saturday morning for the first of their two-part Art Walks in downtown Pleasanton. They will offer Art Walks on the second Saturday mornings in September, October, November, and December, alternating between north and south destinations. Besides showcasing the sculptures and murals in town (many of the former donated by them), the Harringtons have great tales of the artists and their creations. The Art Walks begin in the parking lot adjacent to Pleasanton City Hall, 400 Old Bernal Ave., starting at 8:30 a.m. in September and October and 9 a.m. in November and December.
Another favorite Walk Star is Dolores Bengtson, former head of the city's parks and recreation department. Bengtson offers Nature Walks, helping people discover the many trails within Pleasanton's city limits. She is an expert guide who talks about the flora and fauna, and the human interactions necessary to preserve good walking spaces as the city developed. Currently Bengtson is planning Nature Walks for Oct. 26 and Nov. 30, the latter to include Pioneer Cemetery.
Why would anybody get up early to go for a walk on a Saturday morning?
On a recent sunny Saturday, while walking on the Marilyn Murphy Kane Trail, Charlene Lam answered by saying," This is a fun group of people. I enjoy not only the exercise, but exploring things I didn't know about this town. There is a lot of variety (in the walks)."
For Karl Aitken, the incentive was to find places to walk the puppy he soon will be adopting. "I also wanted to meet new people," he said. "I have lived in Pleasanton for 40 years, yet I am finding out about great parks that I did not know about, plus all sorts of great things we have in our community." (And yes, his puppy will be welcome to come along, as are other dogs on leashes.)
Aitken has gone from being a newcomer to the group to stepping up as a Walk Star. He noticed that World Walk to Wellness participants are what Sutton calls "Green Walkers." That is, they strive to leave places better than they found them. Volunteers use metal reachers and plastic sacks to collect litter along the trails. Last month Aitken took the group on a trail between two parks where lots of litter had accumulated. By the end of the walk, that same trail was litter-free – another small step toward changing the world.