Tristan O’Mara: Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassador

Backpacking that is. Or hiking or fishing or biking or boating or anything else outdoors. A little cloud cover and drizzle just makes the adventure that much more memorable, says Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassador Tristan O’Mara.

By Sarah Tuff Dunn October 4, 2016

Research shows that attrition from outdoor pursuits is greatest during the post-secondary-school years. In an effort to combat that attrition and ensure young adults maintain or develop a lifelong love of the outdoors, Outdoor Foundation and Merrell teamed up to create the Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassador program. Merrell sponsored 25 college students across the country who are charged with increasing outdoor engagement at their respective schools through programming and recreation opportunities. In this series, we’re sharing a few of their stories.

When it rains, it pours. And when you’re a thoughtful and imaginative college student in a city known for its drizzle, when it rains, it pours ideas. At least that’s the case for Tristan O’Mara, a junior double-majoring in biology and environmental science and resource management at Seattle’s University of Washington (UW). Need proof? Her end-of-year ambassador impact statement is seven pages long and lists events as diverse as a forest restoration project and a gear clinic at the school’s Gear Garage grand opening. O’Mara used the Rain City Send climbing competition—a UW-hosted competition for the NC3 Northwest Collegiate Climbing Circuit—as an opportunity to reach students who aren’t familiar with the sport but want to get started.

“I want to make students more aware of their resources to have an outstanding experience in nature as well as their impact on it,” she wrote in her application for the ambassador program. She succeeded, according to her impact statement: “I took a group of students on a day hike to Annette Lake, just outside of North Bend and near Snoqualmie Pass. I thought it was one of the most influential events I hosted. The group of students I took out had very little to no hiking experience, and for one student, this was his first hike and first time seeing snow.”

O’Mara’s application also outlined detailed plans for gear-packing and backpacking basics clinics; winter movie nights; Instagram contests; social media programs; and extensive outreach, from plastering posters at the UW’s Husky Union Building (HUB) and Greek houses to in-person follow-up at tables at the HUB. “An RSVP on Facebook doesn’t actually mean that people will show up,” she explained in the application, “so my goal is to excessively advertise the events and clinics and make them as interesting as they can be to maximize the number of students that will attend.” Her marketing savvy paid off, and she reported healthy turnouts to all of her events and social media campaigns.

The idea for the backpacking basics clinics were born partially from personal experience, says the Michigan native who moved to Washington state when she was 14. “The first time I went backpacking by myself, it was pretty scary for me,” she says. “It was fine until it started to get dark, and then I became irrationally scared that something was going to happen or something was going to attack me.”

Nothing did, but being prepared for every possible situation outdoors inspired O’Mara to motivate her fellow classmates to continue expanding their outdoor knowledge. “I’m pretty passionate about the outdoors, and I enjoy teaching,” she says. “I’m always trying to get my not-as-outdoorsy friends to come hiking or backpacking. I try to be as encouraging and open when teaching or leading events. I think it helps bridge a gap with people who are just starting to take an interest in the outdoors.”

That philosophy helped O’Mara secure her Outdoor Nation Ambassador spot, and the support she got from the Merrell team and other ON Ambassadors from around the country fueled her original ideas and new ones.

“Merrell provided so much support and inspiration throughout the year,” says O’Mara, who participated in monthly calls with the brand and her fellow campus ambassadors. “They were an amazing team, and I’m so happy I had the chance to work with them through this program.”

The most persnickety part of her post, admits O’Mara, has been the social media campaigns. For a woman who wants to be outside staring at a summit, staring at a computer or mobile device screen can be a drain, but setting reminders to post photos and updates helped. So did UW’s Outdoor Program, known as UWild. “They’ve assisted with rooms for hosting events and gear rentals, setting up outdoor events and advertising,” she says. “And they helped me brainstorm ideas for other events I could host.”

Did we mention that when it rains in Washington, it pours ideas?

The 2016 Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge is taking place now through October 15. If you’d like to get your company involved with the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge or any of the Outdoor Foundation’s youth engagement grant programs, visit