Ashley Funk

Executive Director

Hello, I'm Ashley!

I am the seventh generation of my family to live in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. I grew up in Mount Pleasant, and early on, I was aware of the influence that the coal industry has had on our community. For the first seven years of my life, we lived in a home with an ash dump near our backyard. Like many other kids in our communities, weā€™d play in the dump, running around in the summer and sled riding down its steep slopes in the winter. Later on, our family moved to a house built by the H.C. Frick Coke & Coal Company in Standard Shaft, and once again, I spent much of my time exploring the abandoned coke and coal mine operations nearby.

As I got older, I started to recognize the environmental impacts of these industries, both on our local environment and on our climate. I started where I felt I could, and by the time I was 14 years old, I was organizing litter cleanups and recycling initiatives in Mount Pleasant. Then, when I was 17, I worked with Our Childrenā€™s Trust to file a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for failing to protect our rights to a liveable environment by not taking action to mitigate climate change. Through that process, I learned a tremendous amount about Pennsylvaniaā€™s legislative and judicial systems, especially as they relate to environmental issues.

Given the challenges I faced advocating for environmental issues within Pennsylvania, I made the decision to move out of state for college. I attended Wellesley College and Olin College of Engineering where I earned degrees in both Environmental Studies and Design Engineering. I continued my environmental efforts throughout college, where I organized several campaigns and conducted research under the EPA. However, it didnā€™t take me long to realize that my heart never left these mountains, and I was determined to move back to the Laurel Highlands after graduating. Coincidentally, I learned about Mountain Watershed Association at a conference I attended while in college. I was determined to work for the organization since they shared my passion for integrating on-the-ground restoration work with advocacy in the region I call home. I started working for MWA two days after I moved back to Pennsylvania, and Iā€™ve been with the organization ever since.

For my first two years at MWA, I worked as our Community Organizer to help support residents throughout the watershed who are advocating to protect their communities from environmental harms, such as those from the coal, shale gas, and petrochemical industries. We help residents who have experienced first-hand effects of these industries, such as the loss of their drinking water and other impacts to their property, health, and quality life. We educate and uplift local residents so that they can take the lead in their own campaigns and initiatives, because we believe that they are the experts in how to best advocate for their communities. We also connect our advocacy work to larger movements happening throughout the country by collaborating with a wide range of coalition partners locally and nationally. During my time at MWA, Iā€™ve also had the privilege of managing the Direct Support Fund, which provides small grants to grassroots groups organizing around shale gas and petrochemical development throughout the Appalachian region. Through this program, weā€™ve awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to amplify the organizing work of local residents who have always played a critical role in bringing about change in their communities.

In December 2020, I gratefullyĀ transitioned into the role of Executive Director of Mountain Watershed Association. As our Director, I work with our staff, Board of Directors, members, and supporters as we bring to life our mission of protecting, preserving, and restoring the greater Youghiogheny River Watershed. I help to ensure that we are collaborating and coordinating among the many facets of our organization, while also securing the resources to do the work that our communitiesĀ need. Before my time as Director, MWA established a strong root system through 26 years of tireless work in our watershed. I see it as my role to keep watering that root system while our organization continues to grow in new and generative ways.

This is my favorite swimming hole in Indian Creek.

Outside of work, I love being outdoors, exploring and enjoying the places we work hard to protect. My favorite place in our watershed is my go-to swimming hole in the Indian Creek Gorge. I love swimming, and the spot in the Gorge is one of my favorite swimming holes in the world ā€“ and Iā€™ve swam in many different countries and continents. I am, hands down, a water person, though I do love to hike the ridges and dig my hands into my garden every chance I get. You can also find me walking on the Indian Creek Valley Trail every day with my dog. The trail runs through my front yard, so weā€™re out on it every day ā€“ rain, snow, or shine.

Out on a stroll with my dog, Dancer.