ANSBACH, Germany (March 13, 2013) -- Spring had broken early. For nearly a week, the gloomy, low-hanging clouds of winter had dissipated, allowing the sun to melt away the snow and illuminate the patchwork green landscape of Middle Franconia. This was the weather and countryside that greeted Volksmarch enthusiasts March 9 and 10 near Ansbach, Germany.

The Deutsch-Amerikanischer Wanderclub Ansbach (or Ansbach German-American Wanderclub) organized the event, which started out of the Oppel factory at the outskirts of Elpersdorf, a satellite village of Ansbach.

A Volksmarch, according to club literature available at the hike, is a "non-competitive walk open to everyone." There is not one start time but rather a range of times the participant could begin their march, typically the morning hours. The club sets up markers throughout the hike to ensure participants don't lose their way. Hike lengths are typically 5 kilometers, 10 kilometers and 20 kilometers, though some events even have 30-kilometer, marathon-length (42.195-kilometer), and 50-kilometer options.

"If people want a Volksmarch, there's one every weekend they can go to," said Mark Kistner, vice president of the Ansbach club. "You can buy a book at most Volksmarches that tell you when the next Volksmarches are."

The Ansbach Volksmarch had the 5-, 10- and 20-kilometer options. Each loop passed through farmland, woods and villages. The 20-kilometer loop scooped south of Bundesautobahn 6 and through the nearby town of Herrieden.

The weather was mildly chilly, which made the Kontrollstelle welcome respites. At different points along each loop these Kontrollstelle, or control stops, were set up in a volunteer resident's garage during the Ansbach march. There participants could drink warm tea and purchase refreshments. For shorter hikes, these stops obviated the need for participants to carry water with them.

Another thing also happened at the Kontrollstelle. Participants got a stamp on a card they carried through the hike. These stamps indicate which paths the participants have taken. When they return the stamped card to the club, they can get another card stamped indicating when they hiked and for what distance. With 10 stamps in this card, participants are eligible to receive a bronze pin for their dedication, which is the most basic indication of Volksmarch participation. With greater participation (ranging from participation in 30 hikes to hiking 6,000 kilometers) come more pins. For those wishing to do more walking than can fill a card, there are log books available.

"There's one for the different Volksmarches you go to, and another one takes the kilometers you walk," said Kistner. "You buy both books, you have to buy the card that gets stamped."

The events are universal affairs, suited to any temperament of hiker. Those who wish to take the hike as a vigorous exercise in endurance may. Those wishing only for a pleasant Sunday stroll may as well. The Ansbach event sold food, cakes, beer and carbonated beverages to its guests, who partook of this repast both before the hike as well as after.

"We are looking for new members, both Germans and Americans," said Bernd Steinacker, president of the club.

Those interested in joining Deutsch-Amerikanischer Wanderclub Ansbach can call Steinacker at 0981/5533.

There are several upcoming Volksmarches within the Franconian region.

There is a 5- and 10-kilometer march starting at Eggolsheim in Upper Franconia March 16 and 17 beginning between 7 a.m. and noon at Eggerbach-Halle Eggolsheim, Josef-Kolb-Strasse 10A. To learn more, call Wanderfreunde Markt Eggolsheim at 09545/1815 or email busch-eggolsheim@t-online.de.

There is a 5-, 10- and 20-kilometer march at Winkelhaid in Middle Franconia March 16 and 17 at TSV-Sportheim, Winkelhaid, Sportparkstrasse 2 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. To learn more, call TSV Winkelhaid at 09817/41854 or email mum.bolz@onlinehome.de.

There is a 5-, 10- and 20-kilometer march at Untersiemau in Upper Franconia March 24 at Schule Untersiemau, Pestalozzistrasse 1, from 7 a.m. to noon. To learn more, call 09565/7208.

There is a 5- and 10-kilometer march at Heilsbronn in Middle Franconia March 24 at Hohenzollenrhalle Heilsbronn from 7 a.m. to noon. To learn more, call Kloster-Wanderer Heilsbronn at 09822/604260, email Helga@klosterwanderer.info or visit www.klosterwanderer.de.

There is a 6-, 10- and 20-kilometer march at Thüngersheim in Lower Franconia March 29 at Weingut Hart from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more, call 09364/3368.

There is a 5-, 10- and 20-kilometer hike at Lahm in Upper Franconia from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. March 30 and from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 31 at Wanderhalle Lahm, Hans-Jahn-Strasse 20. To learn more, call Wanderfreunde Lahm at 09533/750.

To learn more about Volksmarches, visit the Deutscher Volkssportverband at www.dvv-wandern.de.