Thursday, May 23, 2024

Festhalle Walking Program promotes community and health


LEAVENWORTH—While the rest of downtown may be quiet on a weekday morning in late winter, the Leavenworth Festhalle is buzzing with 60s music, footsteps, and chatter. 

From January through March, the Adult Social Walking Program takes laps inside the Festhalle to maintain their exercise routine, no matter the weather outside. The program is available to everyone, Monday through Thursday, from 7:15 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Each morning, City Council Member Sharon Waters unlocks the doors, sets up her music (she takes requests, by the way), and welcomes walkers into the warm Festhalle to exercise at no charge. 

Fifteen laps around the Festhalle equate to one mile, and walkers can incorporate some incline by walking up and down the stage stairs. People can come and go as they please, walking for as little as twenty minutes or the entire two hours.

“The beauty of it is when the weather's bad, whether it's snowing or raining, people come here because we’ve got a dry, warm spot And [Sharon] plays music that the people love,” said Harry Hansen, a long-time walker.

For many participants, they walk because their doctor recommends it. Brian Owens was told he needed to start walking to rehabilitate after a spinal surgery. Six days after surgery, Owens says it was easy to get 10,000 steps in, having the ability to walk inside the Festhalle. It was also much safer than walking outside.

“Every year I hear about somebody, I mean even the younger people, that break their arm or break their rib from falling on the ice,” said Owens.

Each walker has a story of them or someone they know hurting themselves on ice. For one woman, it was her wrist. For another, a hip. For Mary Nelson, it was her arm. She had gone out to check her mail one day and slipped on her driveway.

“Down I went. I’d broken my forearm. It's made me ice-phobic ever since,” said Nelson. 

Nelson is a regular at the Festhalle. While she does appreciate the ice-free exercise, she stays for the company.

“One of the things that means the most to me is that I have met people I would never have met walking on the sidewalk in town. They go to a different church and they have different friends, but being in here, you get to know everybody,” said Nelson. 

Festhalle walking is as much about exercising as it is about socializing. As they walk, they talk, building new friendships and catching up with old ones. It’s a therapeutic practice that's left the group with a resounding sense of community. 

“Everybody here becomes a family,” said Waters.

Waters came up with the Festhalle walking idea seven years ago, when Residential Advisory Committee member Elmer Larsen challenged his fellow committee members to think of ways to provide to the community. 

“I thought, the Festhalle is just empty, and it's winter, and nobody can walk out in the snow. So, why don't I see if I can get the festival?” said Waters.

Thanks to Waters, who sets up every morning, the program has been going strong with about 35 to 40 walkers ever since. The program only missed one year, due to the pandemic. 

“It was a wonderful idea that she had to do this,” said Hansen.

Many of the walkers, like Hansen, are grateful for the community they’ve built inside the Festhalle, but they have even more gratitude for Waters.

“Sharon is so big-hearted to do this four days a week. She doesn’t walk that much herself because it’s difficult for her, so we’re all kind of in awe of her generosity,” said Nelson.

As winter tapers off, so will Festhalle walking. The program will continue through Mar. 27, ending with a celebratory group breakfast at O’Grady’s Pantry.

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or


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