There’s room for two iconic ice cream parlors in this town. And no good reason not to go to both, if you ask the members of the Sacramento Walking Sticks.
A group of about 100 avid walkers and ice cream eaters took to the streets on Wednesday and Thursday for the annual Ice Cream Walk with the club, one of Sacramento’s largest recreational walking groups.
With visors on heads and water bottles in hand, club members and friends walked from Vic’s Ice Cream in Land Park to Gunther’s Ice Cream in Curtis Park and back – a total of 6.2 miles – with a few snack breaks in between.
Priscilla Fife, a six-year member of the Sticks who recently moved to Alameda County but returned for the event, set off from Vic’s at 9 a.m. Thursday on the club’s mapped route, which was designed to intercept points of interest in two of Sacramento’s more historic neighborhoods.
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She and fellow walkers stopped at Gunther’s, the halfway point, for an early-morning dessert before looping back to Vic’s by way of Marie’s Donuts on Freeport Boulevard. They got back to Land Park at midday and popped in for lunch at the newly added Vic’s Cafe, adjacent to the well-established ice cream parlor.
“We did a lot of walking. We pre-walked the calories,” Fife said. “The perfect thing would be to get ice cream at Vic’s, then ice cream at Gunther’s, then ice cream again at Vic’s. But I can’t do that much walking.”
Fife and others were participating in a form of volkssports, or “sports of the people.” Volkssporting began in Germany in the 1960s and encouraged noncompetitive walks, sometimes between beer festivals, to keep people healthy and engaged in their communities, said Barbara Nuss, president of the Sacramento Walking Sticks.
The American Volkssport Association, which has more than 300 clubs nationwide, promotes similar goals and helps people connect with historic landmarks. Since their establishment in 1984, the Sacramento Walking Sticks have grown to 540 members, making them the largest AVA club in the nation.
The Sticks have established about 40 Sacramento sightseeing routes, which are free and available to the public year-round. The group also hosts three regular walks a week in addition to special events. Food is almost always part of it.
“We’re all about food,” Nuss said. “Half the fun is doing the walk, and going someplace for a bite to eat. It’s just the idea you’re getting together with people you’ve just met or people you know.”
The idea to plan a route around Sacramento’s two 1940s-era creameries came from Walking Sticks webmaster Steve Hughart, who said his family has been going to Gunther’s since it was a nickel a scoop.
Though Hughart cites the “two camps” of Sacramento ice cream eaters as the inspiration for the walk, Gunther’s manager Sarah Fithian said the rivalry is all in the heads of customers.
Whether at Vic’s or at Gunther’s, folks go to satisfy a nostalgic side as much as a sweet tooth. “I remember coming in here with my grandpa,” said Fithian, who grew up a few blocks away. “I think people like coming in here because really nothing has changed.”
Local historian Dan Murphy said Curtis Park dates back to 1910, about a decade earlier than Land Park, but both contain remnants of the bungalow-style housing typical of the 1920s. He said the two neighborhoods are “anchored by Vic’s and by Gunther’s.”
“You definitely walked pole to pole when you went from Vic’s to Gunther’s,” Murphy said. “From one end to the other of the south-end historic communities … you definitely walk through the hearts of the neighborhoods when you take that route.”
The 10K route through residential streets and the Sacramento City College campus took walkers past WPA-constructed curbs, community murals and the “tile house” on 22nd street in Curtis Park, a colorful mosaic residence that Murphy referred to as neighborhood folk art.
Jody Kolar, a Carmichael resident who tagged along with a friend from the Walking Sticks, said she enjoyed a view of the Curtis Park Village construction site from an overpass on campus.
“It got me into a part of my community I’ve never been to before, and I’ve lived here for 20 years,” she said.
The fact that Curtis Park and Land Park were built before World War II makes them “intrinsically more interesting places to walk,” said Teri Duarte, executive director of WALKSacramento. She said both neighborhoods have plenty of trees and large tree canopies, making them ideal for people walking long distances for fitness.
“That neighborhood is built on a more human scale,” she said. “It was built in the day when people really did walk for transportation, so it’s a much more comfortable place to walk. It’s really how we should be building our neighborhoods.”
Davis residents Dave Pelz and Denny Hays said they enjoyed the safety of the neighborhoods on the route, which they strode along while eating Gunther’s ice cream out of to-go cups. The two normally walk with the Davis Dynamos, another AVA club, to stay active.
“Every time you get something as good as this Chocoholic ice cream, you’ve got to do something to deserve it,” said Pelz.
“You don’t give up the good stuff just because you’re getting old,” added Hays.