After 45 years, Point Loma’s Walkabout International remains out and about as it tries to stay on its feet
Walkabout International, a Point Loma-based nonprofit organization that promotes urban, suburban and rural educational walks, marked its 45th anniversary with celebratory walks, a members picnic and more on the first weekend of March.
The group was formed in 1977 by Larry Forman and his wife, Gail Fox. At first the two set out on evening walks by themselves, but soon friends and neighbors tagged along. Their walking group became so large that they decided to organize what would become Walkabout International.
Over the decades, the organization has led walking tours over hundreds of thousands of miles, including in San Diego, nationwide and abroad.
Marilyn Buckley, the organization’s public relations coordinator, first moved to San Diego in 1986. She decided to join the group in 1989 to better familiarize herself with the city through walking tours.
“I found a listing for the group ... and I met up with them for a walk in Balboa Park,” Buckley recalled. “I didn’t know anyone at the time.”
What she found was more than just an engaging way to learn about San Diego. Over the years she’s made many friends and countless memories. And after retiring, she started working for Walkabout in 2012.
The morning of March 4, a group joined Walkabout International for a tour of San Diego’s Golden Hill neighborhood. The date was designated for the organization’s anniversary observance as a day to “march forth.”
The day’s tour was dedicated to the memory of Larraine Marshall, who led the Golden Hill walk for nearly 30 years. Marshall died in 2016, and the walk reprised the route she would take. The guide, Dan Haslam, Walkabout’s director emeritus, treated the participants to tidbits about historical homes, spaces that were used as movie sets and other items of interest as they meandered through the storied neighborhood.
At one point the group stopped in front of the Quartermass-Wilde building at Broadway and 24th Street, which once was home to oil tycoon and former San Diego Mayor Louis Wilde and currently contains law offices. While the group was posing for a picture in front of the property, one of the lawyers invited the walkers to peek inside the building’s foyer and library.
The participants fondly reminisced about their own histories in the area, cracking jokes and smiling along the route. Buckley sees that aspect of Walkabout membership as a defining characteristic that makes the organization stand out from similar ones.
“When you retire, you lose a lot of those networks of people that come through work,” Buckley said. “We’ve all become close over the years. Something about the social component, when you know your friends are waiting for you, gives people a reason to get up and out of the house.”
Many friendships formed on the walks last years and extend beyond the tours. Members have hosted Thanksgiving potlucks and Christmas and birthday parties — especially important for members whose families live in other parts of the world.
Janet Fenston, a Walkabout board member who joined the organization about six years ago, has been leading walks of Lake Murray and the Mission Trail in East County. She says her network of friends through Walkabout has been helpful for her.
“My daughter and granddaughters live in Ireland, so I haven’t been able to see them in person for a few years,” Fenston said. “It was nice to be able to spend Christmas with the Walkabout folks.”
Buckley said the social component has been especially beneficial for people who are widowed or divorced.
“People tell me that they’ve been ‘saved’ by Walkabout,” Buckley said. “It’s a good way to make new friends and maybe meet somebody who understands your situation and can commiserate with you.”
“Something about the social component, when you know your friends are waiting for you, gives people a reason to get up and out of the house.”
— Marilyn Buckley
“Being an active member of the group keeps the mind and body sharp,” she added. “You get to do your exercise for the day and then get breakfast with a group of friends afterward. Especially over the last couple of years, people realized just how important it is to interact with other people.”
A study published in the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association that researched midlife loneliness as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia indicated that persistent loneliness is associated with health issues such as cognitive impairment and stroke.
Membership is down
Walkabout International is funded through memberships, tax-deductible contributions and newsletter subscriptions.
But after nearly a half-century, the group is experiencing dwindling membership. At its peak, membership reached about 1,200 but is now hovering around 200. Restrictions on social gatherings related to the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the decline the past couple of years, the organization says.
“We really need donations and subscriptions, otherwise we have enough funding to survive for one more year,” Haslam told the group toward the end of the Golden Hill walk. “COVID has done a real number on our membership. If we can’t build up our subscription list, we can’t afford to go on.”
Buckley said she is exploring new ways to appeal to prospective members.
“We’re still here,” she said. “We’re still going.”
Walkabout, which has its office at 2650 Truxtun Road at Liberty Station, leads walks on a regular schedule. Local events are listed at walkabout-int.org/featuredtrips.