The Walking Bond: Reflections of a Trail Ambassador

Nature // November 07, 2017

FOW Trail Ambassador (TA) Carol Beam and a fellow TA spent a long time trying to figure out how this ice formation (pictured above) happens on the Wissahickon Creek. Below she shares the joys of patrolling Wissahickon Valley Park with her fellow Trail Ambassadors.

Here’s something we all know:  walking has a long list of proven benefits. It boosts mood and improves creativity, working memory, blood pressure, resting heart rate, and lung function. This information is easy to find. What studies don’t include is the sheer pleasure of sharing a good walk with another person. Those bonds provide a benefit all their own.

When you walk into the park with other Trail Ambassadors, you really do leave behind a lot of the baggage and expectations of the everyday world. You’re in clothing built for comfort, not style. You’re likely to get dirty and sweaty. Your nose will run. You crunch your boots along the paths and share an adventure with a partner out in the wild. Well, sort of wild.

Some people are wildflower mavens, so you suddenly become aware that you’re wading through a sea of tiny, colorful flowers. Others know the geology, which is exciting. The details, for some reason, wow me and then are promptly buried in my own mental strata, but I’m fascinated every step of the way. Some people are great at remembering the Wissahickon’s history. I’m always watching for birds and celebrate when there’s a song I recognize. My walking partners always catch the fever. Every individual makes my trail experience different.

So as we walk we share bits of knowledge and we talk about “stuff,” about the park, about our work, our families, our plans. We stand together stunned by the colors of the meadows, by the seasonal shows of leaves and berries, by the perpetual beauty of bends in the creek. We walk and talk at an easy pace, usually punctuated by equally easy silences. We get to know each other in a way you can’t know people at work or at a dinner parties. It’s calmer and sweeter, even when the wind is whipping around you and you know that lots of sane people are staying indoors. We truly appreciate being with other people who love being in the park as much as we do.

On the trail we’re adventurers. We’re gathering sensory snapshots, aiming to see and learn more. We’re sleuths, looking into dozens of mysteries together. What’s making the ice form into such strange patterns? What kind of bones are these? What kind of tree? Is that mushroom poisonous? And the ever-popular: does the sign tell us to go this way or that way?

All this, plus the bonus of knowing we’re helping our park and our neighbors. One day there will be a study that tells us there’s a special endorphin dedicated to this. But we know that already.


By Carol Beam, FOW Trail Ambassador

Photo by Carol Beam