- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Faithfully, every Wednesday at 10 a.m., rain or fog, about two dozen retirees meet up on the southeast corner of Carkeek Park, at the Eddie McAbee Entrance.

They chatter about their grandkids, the traffic and the trivialities of everyday life, idling while the stragglers catch up for their weekly hike.

“I think we’re ready,” said group leader Dave Swierkos after counting the 27 heads.

Hopefully there will still be 27 heads by the end of the hike, someone quipped.

Then off to the trailhead the gang went.

The weekly walk at Carkeek is one of 16 organized outings in Seattle’s Parks and Recreation department’s Sound Steps program designed for residents 50 and older. Besides parks, the walks tour popular attractions such as Pike Place Market and Woodland Park Zoo.

Social contacts

The Carkeek walk is one of the city’s most popular, drawing scores of hikers on occasion. Friendships have been forged here. Bridge partners found.

It’s too easy to just sit around the house, said Damon Darley, who does these weekly jaunts with his wife of 49 years, Leslie Darley. “At our age it is important to keep up social contacts and activities.”

“I’ve grown fond of several regulars here,” said 77-year-old David Beatty, who moved from Port Townsend. “They have become my hiking friends.”

On a recent outing, their hike started on Pipers Creek Trail, along the rim of the canyon.

Hikers get a look at the woods, and, sometimes, wildlife. On one hike, “I heard rustling on the bank of Pipers Creek,” said Ballard resident Mark Blitzer, who has gone on these weekly walks for the last five years. “I thought it was a dog but what popped out was a large river otter. It jumped in Pipers Creek and went in the culvert. It was so amazing . this river otter in an urban park.”

The hike stretches 3 to 3.5 miles, each week with a different route and a different theme: a low-tide stroll to observe marine life one week; another week, a hike to watch the chum run along Pipers Creek and its tributaries, Venema Creek and Mohlendorph Creek.

The hikes started in July 2011 thanks to Swierkos, who convinced park administrators that this 220-acre park, even with all the dips and uneven gravel trails, was still safe for seniors.

“It wasn’t a hard sell,” he said.

Carkeek, with six miles of trails, boasts a diverse terrain that can take folks into lush evergreens, over wetlands, on the beach and up to a bluff. There are vistas of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

Technically, park officials consider this a hike instead of a walk since there’s slight elevation gain. The weekly Carkeek hike has been canceled only once in the past six years: Christmas Day.

History, too

Swierkos, who leads these hikes with his wife of nearly 50 years, Lorraine Swierkos, sprinkles his walk with historic footnotes and interesting tidbits.

As he led hikers toward the historic orchard that once belonged to the Piper family homestead, he instructed them to first check out a moss-covered Western red cedar stump as they passed. “You can see notches from the spring board, back in the day when this was a lumber camp.”

He regularly notes what’s happening in nature along the trail.

“Those are oso berries, Damon,” Swierkos said to one of the regulars. “You know it’s spring when those are popping off the leaves.”

The group hiked a mile in, strolling over a boardwalk and climbing up the park’s bluff. Atop the bluff, dog walkers mixed with other visitors taking selfies with the sweeping Olympics as a backdrop.

Not this older crowd. Some don’t even own a smartphone. To avoid the baby strollers and other foot traffic, Swierkos led the gang farther northwest.

They ducked on to the North Traverse Trail, under a canopy of spruce and cedars, near a stream. “Ah, some solitude,” he said.

As they continued, the woods filled with laughter from shared jokes and the crackling of footsteps on the gravel trail.

They then circled back to the parking lot. “See you next week,” someone yelled to those pulling up in the rear.

“Next week,” another responded.

If you go

Weekly walks for the 50-and-older crowd

Seattle Parks and Recreation sponsors more than a dozen walking groups for residents 50 and older. All are free unless indicated otherwise below.

The city also organizes a monthly hike to destinations outside the city ranging from Heather Lake in the North Cascades to Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve in Thurston County.

Below is a sampling of regular “Sound Steps” walks and hikes. Contact the coordinator before you start with a group, so the walk leader will know to look for you: 206-684-4664 or email sound.steps.seattle.gov.

More details:seattlesoundsteps.wordpress.com

North Seattle

. Ballard: 3 miles on flat, paved Burke-Gilman Trail. Moderate pace. 9:30-10:30 a.m. Mondays, meet at Fred Meyer store east entrance, 915 N.W. 45th St.

. Carkeek Park: 3 miles, some hills, natural-surface forest trails with views of Puget Sound. Moderate pace. 10-11:30 a.m. Wednesdays. Meet at Eddie McAbee entrance to park, at Northwest 100th Place and Sixth Avenue Northwest.

. Woodland Park Zoo: Two walks per week around zoo. $15 for 13 weeks. Sign up at zoo.org/seniorzoowalkers.

. Green Lake Loopers: 3 miles at gentle or moderate pace. 1:30 p.m. Fridays. Meet in front of Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists at 6350 E. Green Lake Way N. RSVP at 206-461-7825.

. Greenwood: 3 miles, some hills, natural-surface forest trails. Moderate pace. Contact leader at lpittman@uw.edu.

South Seattle

. Lincoln Park: 3 miles, some hills, natural-surface and paved trails along Puget Sound. Moderate pace. 10-11:15 a.m. Mondays. Meet at the south end of the north parking lot at Lincoln Park.

. Rainier Beach indoor walk: Walk laps inside the gym at your own pace, with music. 10-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Rainier Beach Community Center, 8825 Rainier Ave. S.

Central Seattle

. Discovery Park: 2.8 miles, some hills, natural-surface trails with Puget Sound views. Moderate pace. 10 a.m.-noon Fridays. Meet at visitor center, 3801 Discovery Park Blvd.

. Pike Place Market: 3 miles, flat, paved walk with waterfront views. At your own pace. 10-11 a.m. Thursdays. Meet at the Pike Place Market pig.

. Yesler Terrace: Walk around the neighborhood. 2-3 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays. Meet at Yesler Community Center, 917 E. Yesler Way.

. Capitol Hill: Flat loops within Cal Anderson park, flexible distance. 6-7 p.m. on second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. Meet at the Shelter House near the restrooms. 1635 11th Ave.

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The original story can be found on The Seattle Times’ website: bit.ly/1SO3thG

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Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com

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