It's all in the TRAMILY!

A blended word - tramily - captures the unique bonds that form among those who make visits to local trails part of their health, wellbeing, and recreational routine.

Posted by Gwen Loose at 02/21/2024

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In a recent issue of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s (ATC) official magazine, AT Journeys, an article entitled, “All in the ‘TRAMILY’” immediately captured my attention. The article’s author, Sarah Jones Decker, recounts an early Saturday morning hike on one of her favorite sections of the A.T. In her article, Ms. Decker certainly had every opportunity to describe her hike along this iconic trail, but she did not.

Her focus was clear as she began describing the experience as, “Free of kids, husbands, and all other responsibilities, we set off…” And, “The weather was perfect, and we laughed and snacked our way down the trail together…” She captures the experience with a photo of a group embrace – Sarah and her four hiking buddies – enjoying time with TRAMILY.

I get it. Your “tramily” is that special group of people who frequent trails together, forming a social network or community with likeminded trail users that feels like family. Simply put, “tramily” is a blended word for trail family.

As I began to ponder on the warm, fuzzy notion of a trail family, the balance of Ms. Decker’s article really came home to me. As executive director for the York County Rail Trail Authority, I see and experience the many personal values of tramily. I usually begin my working days with a check out the office window to see the group of cyclers, self-named the Early Morning Riders, unloading their bikes, chatting away, gearing up, and heading out for their ten-mile ride to a convenience store for coffee. On the way, they may stop for a free bottle of water from the Water Lady’s trailside cooler, greet Sam and dog sitting at their favorite bench near Howard Tunnel, and chat with Liz who walks each morning from her home near Brillhart Station parking lot. It’s all in their tramily.

Alongside Ms. Decker’s group photograph, she reflects, “Being out on the Trail every month became the social and therapeutic outlet we didn’t know we collectively needed so badly in our busy lives.” Here lies the heart of “tramily.”

In her article, Ms. Decker reflects upon the relationships she made while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2008 – her deep sense of belonging to a tramily – and thereby not suffering from the loneliness epidemic identified in 2023 by the US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. Of course, tramilies are not formed solely by elite thru-hikers. Establishing a routine of visiting a local trail, greenway, blueway, or park and offering a brief “Hello. How are you?” to passerbys can become a great introduction into a tramily. Such regular activities lead to a fostering of social interactions and a sense of companionship amongst activity peers that generates positive feelings of belonging to – you guessed it – a tramily.  

Engaging in regular outdoor recreation has long been viewed as a prescription for good physical health, and now a strange little word like “tramily” espoused the mental health benefits of parks and trails. A tramily provides companionship, a sense of belonging, a loving community, where members do not feel isolated or lonely. So who’s in your tramily?