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Andrea Imler, WTA's advocacy director, loves to take long trips that allow her to get deep into the backcountry, like here in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Photo by Todd Schneider.

Work Hard, Hike Hard: WTA's Advocacy Director Is Living WTA's Mission

Andrea Imler is devoted to ensuring there are trails for everyone, forever — whether she’s in the office or on the trail.

When Andrea Imler is working, she’s striving to protect Washington’s trails and wild places for hikers to enjoy for generations to come. When she’s not working, there’s nowhere she’d rather be than exploring the trails of Washington — ideally for 10 days and 100 miles at a time.

Andrea, who is Washington Trails Association’s advocacy director, embodies the mission of WTA, whether she’s at work or at play. Advocacy successes come on a long time frame — and they’re complicated, with many players and places to consider. Andrea knows how to plan for the big picture — and her love of long trails makes all of the work worth it.

Andrea Imler. Photo by Todd Schneider.
Andrea Imler, WTA's advocacy director, hikes all over the state, including in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Photo by Todd Schneider.  

Andrea has lived in Washington her whole life. She grew up in the Olympia area on a 5-acre lot, where she was often told to “go outside and play.” Her family camped regularly, but it wasn’t until college that she really began hiking and backpacking in earnest. Andrea studied at the University of Washington. She remembers that Wallace Falls off of U.S. 2 was one of her first hikes as an adult. Now, in her role at WTA, she helps ensure hikers have a voice in planning processes for trails and other recreation sites around Wallace Falls and elsewhere.

When Andrea graduated from college, she’d never gone backpacking before, but she asked for backpacking gear as a graduation gift. She hiked out the Wolf Creek Trail near Winthrop with college friends. As she did more exploring, she quickly realized that hiking and backpacking were her thing. In the early 2000s, she climbed Mount Rainier — and later climbed it two more times. She also hiked around the mountain with her father during an epically rainy trip. They completed the full Wonderland Trail — although they considered stopping many times. And while it was in some ways a miserable trip, it also solidified in her mind that longer trails are what she really enjoys. She even went back to hike the trail two more times.

Andrea works and hikes across the state, including in the Blue Mountains. Photo by Andrea Imler. 

From her weekend trail runs to her almost 2-week backcountry adventures, Andrea has personal experience across the state’s trail system and the professional expertise to help make the system even stronger.

Andrea has been at WTA for 5 years. She knew she needed to work at a job where the mission matched well with her passions and where she knew she could make a difference. WTA was a good fit for her.

Since joining WTA, Andrea has led the way in building our advocacy program. The issues she was working on when she first started are still important, from trail funding to access and hiker experiences. For the first few years, she was the only person in advocacy. She helped build up the program, create a stronger digital presence on our website and make use of digital tools to engage more activists to advocate for trails. She also helped WTA hire a lobbyist, which has been instrumental in some recent successes, such as funding for a study to examine the health and economic benefits of hiking trails.

“WTA has such a powerful mission. It’s what drew me to WTA. We are able to use our advocacy to actually get work done on the ground.”

WTA is a leader in outdoor recreation in the state, which is something Andrea is proud of. She credits WTA’s success to our ability to foster relationships, to hear all sides of an issue and to work with everyone. Andrea is also proud that WTA has grown to be such a respected organization that Executive Director Jill Simmons was invited to testify before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Andrea’s also now overseeing a growing advocacy staff.

“Now, we’re a team of four people,” Andrea said. “I’m very proud of that. It’s been my hope and dream since I started here to expand the advocacy program at WTA.”

Trail block by tree. Photo by Todd Schneider.
Sometimes Andrea finds trails in need of attention on her hikes, like the Larch Creek Trail in the Pasayten. Photo by Todd Schneider. 

With the recent addition of a larger advocacy staff, Andrea is learning how to adapt. Leading a team and empowering others is a lot different than doing everything herself. It’s an exciting challenge. And one she’s happy to tackle.

“WTA has such a powerful mission,” she said. “It’s what drew me to WTA. We are able to use our advocacy to actually get work done on the ground.”

Andrea appreciates that her work and personal passions mesh so well, although she does sometimes find it hard to forget about work while she’s hiking.

“All my work stays in my brain when I am hiking. On the drive to the trailhead, I wonder if the road will remain accessible. As I hike, I see trails that are at risk of being lost. I constantly see reminders of the need for better public funding all around me,” she said. “It can be hard to let work go.”

Andrea enjoys the ability to explore on long trips in areas such as the Pasayten, which is a focus of WTA's Lost Trails campaign. Photo by Andrea Imler. 

On one of her high-country adventures, Andrea had to power through about 100 downed trees. And as she was hiking, it was hard to stop thinking about trail access and what it takes to care for trails all across the state. She jokes that there are no road access gnomes and no trail work gnomes to ensure that trails are here for the future. It takes real people to speak up in support of trails and access. She’s honored that her role allows her to speak up for hikers from a place of passion and experience to help make a difference.

There are no road access gnomes and no trail work gnomes to ensure that trails are here for the future.

“Washington Trails Association is the voice of hikers in Washington,” Andrea said. “I take that role very seriously. When I lose sight of the big picture, I’m reminded that it’s pretty powerful to speak up for trails — and we can accomplish more when we use our collective voice on behalf of hikers in Washington.”

Andrea Imler. Photo by Todd Schneider.
Andrea passes to eat a few berries. She appreciates that her personal passion and professional work at WTA mesh so well. Photo by Todd Schneider. 

Highlights from a life of hiking and working for hikers

Andrea's proudest advocacy moments

  • Helping the advocacy team grow from one to four people.
  • Creating a powerful online presence for trail advocates.
  • Helping WTA grow its representation across the state.
  • Seeing Jill Simmons, WTA’s executive director, testify before Congress about the importance of trails on federal land.

Andrea's next big goal

  • To ensure a dedicated pot of funding for trails.

Andrea's favorite trail memories

How she packs

In addition to being an expert on advocacy issues related to trails, Andrea is an expert on light-weight backpacking. Read about what she puts in her pack, and why

Andrea Imler in Olympic National Park.
Andrea Imler (right) pauses for a photo during a backpacking trip in Olympic National Park. Photo by Andrea Imler.