Little Traverse Conservancy

Who We Are

We are more than 4,300 members and 400 volunteers strong

BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Chair: Cedric A. (Rick) Richner, III
Vice-Chair: Phil Porter
Treasurer: Jon Lyons
Secretary: Karie Slavik

Josh Baker
Lisa Blanchard
Richard M. Bolton
George M. Covington
Mary Faculak
Jeffrey S. Ford
Gregg K. Garver
John Griffin
Eric Hemenway
Dave Kring
Darrell Lawson
Tom Litzner
Glen Matthews
Harriet McGraw
John Merrill
Emerson Meyer
Maureen Nicholson
Consie Pierrepont
Bill Roney
Tom Rowland
Susan I. Stewart

Committee Chairs

Land Protection: Mary Faculak
Stewardship: Gregg Garver
Education: John Merrill
Nominating: Phil Porter
Investment: Jon Lyons

Meet your Membership Ambassadors

Founders

In 1972 these men created your Little Traverse Conservancy.
They provided the spark to make the work you see possible.

John Fischer
Dave Irish
Ed Koza
Earl Larson
Seberon “Boo” Litzenburger
Frank Pierce
John Tanton

Little Traverse Conservancy Staff

Stewardship Team

Director of Stewardship

Director of Conservation Easements

Volunteer Coordinator

Conservation Specialist

Preserve Stewardship Specialist

Technology and Stewardship Coordinator

Ecology Technician

Recreation Field Supervisor

Stewardship Technician

Conservation Easement Technician

Education Team

Director of Education

Education Specialist

Education Specialist

Land Protection Team

Director of Land Protection

Chief Financial Officer
& Land Protection

Communications & community outreach

Director of Community Outreach & Communications

Administrative Team

Executive Director

Executive Advisor

Administrative Coordinator

DEVELOPMENT TEAM

Chief Development Officer

Development Associate

Donor Relations Specialist

Derek Shiels

Director of Stewardship

Derek Shiels began work as the Conservancy’s Conservation Easement Specialist in May 2014 and transitioned to Stewardship Director in 2017. The stewardship staff oversees the wise care of Little Traverse Conservancy’s working forest lands and nature preserves and the monitoring of each conservation easement. A native of Rockford, Michigan, Derek spent his childhood exploring a large parcel of wildland right near his home, prompting an early desire for a career in the outdoors.

Derek spent a semester in Wyoming with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), holds a B.S. in Natural Resource Management from Grand Valley State University, a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Taylor University, and a Master’s in Biology from Central Michigan University with an emphasis in Plant Systematics. He spent two years in Missouri working for the Missouri Department of Conservation as a cave biology technician monitoring endangered gray bats and crawling, canoeing, and rappelling into caves to document other cave life. Before coming to Little Traverse Conservancy, he worked with the Leelanau Conservancy’s Invasive Species Team. Derek, his wife Adrienne, daughter Ayla, and son Siah make their home in Petoskey. “We have found our place— the views, the people, nature, we love getting to explore northern Michigan and call it home.”

Melissa Hansen

Conservation Easement Stewardship Coordinator

While growing up within minutes of Round Lake, Lake Charlevoix, and Lake Michigan, Melissa developed a love for northern Michigan and the outdoors, which led to earning a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. Starting her journey at Little Traverse Conservancy as an intern, Melissa became the Conservancy’s first full-time stewardship staff person. After 14 years of working in and developing the stewardship program, she took an opportunity to work within the education program, combining passions for conservation and education.

Melissa is now excited to have returned to her stewardship roots and is grateful to be part of a successful organization having a lasting, positive impact in the community. When not wandering through forests, strolling along beaches, paddling down a river, or tromping through snow, Melissa can be found at a library, community event, or savoring time with family and friends.

Cacia Lesh

Volunteer Coordinator and Outreach

After working as Little Traverse Conservancy’s administrative coordinator for more than two years, Cacia has moved into the Conservancy’s first formal position to coordinate the growing pool of volunteers. Born in Vermont, Cacia has conservation in her blood with both parents working in related fields. In her young life, she has already lived in and traveled to numerous places, including a year of high school in South Africa on a Rotary Exchange program.

After graduating from Prescott College in Arizona with a degree in Environmental Conservation, Cacia lived in Wyoming, Maine, and for two years in Alaska. Her husband, David Lesh, has connections to northern Michigan on Burt Lake, and after several years of moving, the young couple decided that northern Michigan had everything they wanted. You might also find Cacia teaching yoga in Petoskey or running down preserve trails after her twin boys.

Amy Lipson

Conservation Specialist

Amy Lipson joined Little Traverse Conservancy in April 2021 in the new position of Conservation Specialist. A native Michigander, Amy, and her family have vacationed in northern Michigan for three generations. Swimming in the Great Lakes, running through the woods, and exploring wetlands inspired her life-long love of Michigan’s natural places. In her free time, Amy enjoys sewing her clothes, gardening for food and flowers, and foraging for tasty snacks in the forest.

Amy hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she attended the University of Michigan and met her husband, Joe. She studied plant biology there and realized she wanted to pursue a career in conservation while working for the university greenhouse. After graduating, she worked for Ann Arbor’s Parks and Recreation Department at Natural Area Preservation, first as a Conservation Worker, then as a Conservation Crew Leader. After more than four years there, Amy is thrilled to be moving up north to work at LTC.

Mike Lynch

Preserve Stewardship Specialist

Mike first joined Little Traverse Conservancy in Summer 2012 when he was hired for a temporary, seasonal position. He moved to northern Michigan from Illinois six years ago after spending many summer vacations in the area and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Mike holds a B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Management from Lake Superior State University.

Last summer, he quickly demonstrated his strong work ethic and ability to handle whatever was asked of him. When a staff vacancy was created later in the season, Mike was the obvious choice to come on as a full-time staff member. “It is an honor and a privilege to be a full-time member of the Little Traverse Conservancy staff,” Mike said.

“Working for the Conservancy allows me to protect what I love, but it also provides a sense of accomplishment that I have never encountered before, and that means the most to me! I’m looking forward to expanding my knowledge and protecting the natural beauty that is northern Michigan.

Charles Dawley

Technology and Stewardship Coordinator

A native of Petoskey, Charles joined the Conservancy as an intern in the spring of 2003. Charles has many talents ranging from building boardwalks to producing maps and documentation for the land and stewardship projects and Conservancy publications. His formal education is a Bachelors’s Degree in Geographic Information Systems and Environmental Land Use and Planning from Central Michigan University.

“I get the best of both worlds; I spend lots of time in nature and lots of time with high technology. What a great job. I love what I do and am proud to be a part of saving my heritage.” Charles is married to Sarah, a Petoskey school teacher, and has two sons and a daughter.

Brad Von Blon

Stewardship Technician

Brad grew up in Ohio but quickly escaped a few times to neighboring states with more exciting flora. He earned an Associate’s Degree in Wildlife Management at Hocking College before transferring to West Virginia University for a Bachelor’s in Wildlife & Fisheries Resources. A lot of his time has been spent on the arid ridge tops of the Appalachians down to the humid muskegs of Michigan, usually looking for rare plants. He’s worked mainly as a naturalist, a “certified bird feeding specialist,” a bobcat necropsy technician, and a tech at West Virginia’s largest herbarium. He fell in love with the North Woods after spending a season at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, and this will be his third summer with LTC. With a contagious smile and versatile skillset, Brad was the star of many of our education videos filmed during the early months of Covid 2020.

Nate Dionne

Recreation Field Supervisor

Nate has a deep appreciation for Northern Michigan. Growing up in Elk Rapids, MI, he developed a passion for agriculture and working the land in the orchards. The mix of hands-on work, science and equipment combined with a variety of constantly evolving challenges including weather, price fluctuation and consumer choice helped to instill a deep appreciation for the farmer. This interest helped direct him to Michigan State University where he earned a degree in Agriscience Education.

After beginning his teaching career in Saline, MI, Nate was able to relocate to Gaylord, MI where he taught a variety of courses including a wide array of science courses and horticulture courses for twenty years. He finished his career in education as the principal at East Jordan Middle High school where he was fortunate to join and work with a fantastic team from 2019-2023. 

Nate lives with his family in Boyne City. His wife Ami and their children: Isaac (14), Cam (12) and Addy (10) enjoy working on their apple farm, mountain biking, downhill/XC skiing and hanging with their animals: MJ(Chocolate Lab), Tansey (cat) and Rook and Lexi (horses). 

“I feel so fortunate to begin the next chapter of my life working in a field that I appreciate and have reaped the benefits for so many years enjoying the ski, bike and walking trails. It is a privilege to help protect this area and to help make it accessible for others to enjoy for years to follow.”

Keegan Butler

Stewardship Technician

Keegan joined the stewardship team in 2023 as a seasonal technician and we are happy to have him back for a second year. Prior to moving to northern Michigan in 2022, Keegan grew up in Alabama, Northern Virginia, New Mexico, and New York. He obtained his BA in Theatre from the University of Alabama and his MFA in Lighting Design from NYU Tisch. After spending countless hours in dark theatres across the country, Keegan decided to expand his horizons and work outside in the sunshine, and is grateful that LTC was willing to take a chance on him! Keegan looks forward to maintaining the numerous preserves and reserves under LTC’s stewardship purview.

Dirk Ruff

Recreation Field Supervisor

Dirk is originally from the Grand Traverse Region and grew up near the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. His love for the outdoors and conservation grew as he attended Northern Michigan University, pursuing a Paralegal degree. He was a part of forest cleanups with the student off-road organization there and realized the need for active conservation efforts and continual land stewardship.

After working for a few years in financial compliance and office management, he decided on a career change that aligned with his interests and values. Prior to coming to LTC he worked with the North Country Trail, and the US Forest Service. Dirk loves whitewater kayaking, backpacking and canoe tripping with his wife Anna, and their pup Goose. Dirk has spent quite a few afternoons kayaking the Bear River Rapids in Petoskey and looks forward to the spring runoff every year for some exciting wave surfing and eddy lines.

One special trips was backpacking to Rocking Chair Lakes. He and a college friend did the short, but steep climb up the rock cut to the perched lake 100 feet above the Mulligan River. They spent the weekend looking for moose within their primary range using binoculars from the 200-foot outcrop on the western edge of the lake to investigate the wilderness to the west. They did, in fact, see a few, and were treated to an absolute stunning display of the stars and the Milky Way on the first night. This trip reinforced the need for remote and untouched places to reconnect with nature, and to safeguard these for generations to come.
“I’m thrilled to use my legal background and outdoor experience to assist the Little Traverse Conservancy with their easement program. I feel extremely lucky to work with such exceptional people, towards a cause for good that will far outlast us. The work of preserving the land for future generations is near and dear to me, I could think of no better way to spend my time and efforts.”

Sarah Mayhew

Director of Education

The Education Department received an infusion of enthusiasm and passion for this work when Sarah came on board in February 2011. The granddaughter of Dana Houseworth, a well-known Michigan state park manager whose duties included Petoskey State Park, Sarah has conservation in her blood. In 2006, she received a B.S. degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership & Management from Northern Michigan University.

Since then, her experiences have taken her to places such as Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, where she has taught in various education and outdoor leadership settings. “As an environmental educator, I can expand on a traditional classroom lesson into one that will reach multiple learning styles while providing real-life, hands-on experience. They can see it, feel it, smell it, and understand it. They are experiencing nature. This experience gives them a sense of adventure, confidence, and accomplishment. It’s a gratifying feeling for me to be a part of that experience.”

Sarah Koetje

Education Specialist

Sarah Koetje moved to northern Michigan after graduating from Western Michigan with a degree in Interpersonal Communication and business. She met her husband here, and they have created a life in this beautiful region. They have two sons: Gavin(13) and Rowan(10). The Koetjes are a family that loves exploring and learning as much as possible about the world around them. Adventures big or small; they are up for it all!

For years, Sarah and her boys attended the summer programs that The Little Traverse Conservancy put on. Once her boys were both in school, she was looking for a job. Not just any job, but a position that would fill her soul— Something that she believed in. The Little Traverse Conservancy was hiring seasonal help in their education department. She updated her resume and sent it in that day, and here we are, three years later.

“My interest in environmental education stems from my passion for nature, conservation, and my love for children. I pinch myself daily— what a gift, what a tremendous advantage. I get to enlighten young minds as they are simultaneously illuminating me. It’s pure magic.”

Taylor Sobczak

Education Specialist

I was born and raised a Petoskey native, and recently married to my middle school sweetheart! We have two dogs named Yukon and Russet and we love to relax outside and camp with them any chance we get. In 2019, while getting my Associates Degree at North Central Michigan College, I took an environmental sustainability class which gave me the opportunity to intern with LTC. I then went to Central Michigan University (CMU), where I graduated with a BS in Environmental Studies. After coming back to Petoskey from CMU, I reached out to LTC again and was lucky enough to be hired for the fall of 2022 in their education department. I love being able to get outside everyday and teach the younger generation about how much there is to appreciate in nature. I especially enjoy our “dirt makers” program where we get dirty, find out what lives under logs. It’s truly a dream that this is my job.

Caitlin Donnelly

Director of Land Protection

Caitlin graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife in 2010, focusing on habitat management. The following backpacking in South America after college and living in Colorado, Caitlin moved back to her northern Michigan roots. First, she joined Little Traverse Conservancy’s staff as an Americorps member in 2013.

She was hired full time as a land protection and stewardship specialist in January of 2014 before moving into her role as director of land protection in 2017. When not in the office, Caitlin loves to travel, be outside, and spend time with her loved ones, including her husband Nicholas and their dog, Jet.

Joe Graham

LAnd PRotection Specialist

Joe is very proud of his northern Michigan roots. He has called East Jordan, Charlevoix, Petoskey, and now Harbor Springs home. His love of the land and the outdoors began at an early age when he spent much of his time on his grandparents’ dairy farm. His Grandfather, Don Graham, instilled in him a deep appreciation for the value of the land. Joe remembers his grandfather saying, “It’s the only thing they aren’t making more of.” Don also modeled hard work and frugality, managing to operate a 400-acre family dairy farm when they were rapidly disappearing.

Joe graduated with honors from the Rochester Institute of Technology, earning a degree in Business Administration. It feels like Joe has done a little of everything in his working life. Some of the highlights include marketing for a leading product development solutions company, starting his business fabricating custom bicycles, leading backpacking camps and summer programs for children, and doing almost every job at the local bike store, Latitude 45. He has recently been thrilled to join Little Traverse Conservancy’s staff as a Land Protection Specialist.

Joe’s passions are numerous: cycling, skiing, sailing, milling his lumber, woodworking and metalworking, home improvement, gardening and managing the greenhouse, and so many sports. Joe is married to the beautiful Emily Hughes, Little Traverse Conservancy’s Chief Development Officer. They have two amazing daughters, Ember and Ada, and their first-born Journey, a rescue dog.

Anne Fleming

Director of Communications

After many years working as a communications consultant for LTC, Anne, joined the staff in 2015. A northern Michigan native, she was an education intern with LTC in 1992 and discovered that land trust work was where she wanted to be. After college, she worked summers in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, with a year teaching at the Montessori School of Duluth, followed by graduate school at the University of Wisconsin.

From Wisconsin, Anne and Kieran landed in Traverse City, where they both worked at the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. After starting their family, the two migrated north where they’ve been ever since. The Flemings live on a small hobby farm in Bliss just a few miles from where Anne was raised. 

Kieran Fleming

Executive Director

Kieran joined the Little Traverse Conservancy in February 2000. A native of Wisconsin, he learned to love the outdoors through excessive hunting and fishing and by working on the then abundant small family farms. He traces his roots in conservation to seeing the loss of habitat and farmland to suburbanization around his childhood country home. He studied wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and met Anne in the Apostle Islands, where he was doing his graduate work.

Anne and Kieran moved to Michigan in 1996 to work for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. A few years later, they moved north to live in Bliss (literally) — not far from where Anne grew up. Kieran started at Little Traverse Conservancy as a Stewardship Specialist, then moved into land protection as the Offield Challenge grant sparked a dramatic increase in Little Traverse Conservancy’s land protection work. He became the Director of the Land Protection Program in 2006 and then directed both the Land Protection and Stewardship programs starting in 2013. He became the Chief Operating Officer in 2017 and Executive Director in 2018.

Tom Lagerstrom

Executive advisor

Tom grew up in suburban Detroit and summered in the Gaylord area of Northern Michigan. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management. Following graduation, he was a partner for six years at Morgan Engineering, a sheet metal fabrication company. He returned to Michigan State and received his Masters’s degree in Environmental Education.

Tom began working at the Conservancy in 1984 as the half-time membership coordinator. In 1987 he became the Associate Director, where his responsibilities include managing business operations, membership, and fundraising. During that time, the Conservancy’s membership has grown from 500 members in 1984 to more than 4,000 at present. 

Tom is married to MaryAnne Griffin, the Administrative Coordinator for the Conservancy for nearly 20 years. Together they have four daughters.

Sarah Gurney

Administrative Coordinator

The Conservancy welcomed Sarah Gurney to the Little Traverse Conservancy Team in Spring 2013. A native Michigander, Sarah didn’t experience northern Michigan until her early 20s. She then knew this was where she wanted to be. But before permanently landing here, she fulfilled a childhood dream by dancing for Disney at Disneyland in southern California.

After settling in northern Michigan for good, Sarah obtained her bachelor’s degree in Business from Lake Superior State University and worked for Irish Boat Shop in Harbor Springs for 13 years. Sarah brings strong communication, organization, and business skills to Little Traverse Conservancy and a familiarity with many Conservancy members and projects. Sarah is married to Pete Gurney, and the couple is avid outdoor lovers. From road and mountain biking to backcountry skiing, you can find them and their English Yellow Lab, Billy, all over Michigan through all four seasons.

Emily Hughes

Chief Development officer

In June 2016, we welcomed Emily Hughes to the Little Traverse Conservancy staff in a new position devoted entirely to our membership program. Emily came to us with diverse skills in development, marketing, nonprofit management, and outdoor education. However, what you are most likely to notice about her are an irrepressibly positive attitude, infectious smile, and deep love of the land in northern Michigan. Since joining us, Emily has elevated our membership program and taken on responsibilities in our financial management as CFO. She now has the privilege of working with LTC’s transformational members as Chief Development Officer.

Prior to LTC, Emily lived and worked at Kroka Expeditions, a nonprofit wilderness school in New Hampshire with an educational farm. Emily’s undergraduate studies were in International Business and Marketing at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Before jumping into her graduate studies, she ventured to Lanesboro, Minnesota, to work as a naturalist at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center.

Emily gained a master’s in Environmental Studies from SUNY-ESF, and a master’s in Public Administration at Syracuse University, focusing on nonprofit management. Emily’s love of the outdoors began at a young age during camping, hiking, and canoeing trips. Many of these trips were in the Adirondacks, just a couple of hours from her hometown, Fayetteville, NY. She is a National Outdoor Leadership School alumni.

Emily loves cycling and would choose a bike over a car any day. She is also an avid basketball player, with lots of height and enthusiasm. She is joined by her husband (Joe), their two children (Ember and Ada) and their dog (Journey). Emily is eager to meet you, our members! Feel free to call her to set up a preserve walk or bike ride.

Lindsay Hall

Development Associate

Lindsay grew up in Harbor Springs and is incredibly proud to call this place home. “From trail running in these woods to swimming in the lake, I feel so connected to northern Michigan and all of its beauty!” Finding it hard to stray far from the Great Lakes, she opted for Lake Superior’s shores to study Environmental Studies and Sustainability at Northern Michigan University. After graduating, Lindsay moved back to Petoskey and joined Little Traverse Conservancy as an Environmental Educator in the fall of 2018.

After two years as LTC’s Communications Specialist, Lindsay transistioned into the Development Associate role in 2023. “I’m so happy to be a part of this incredible team. I am continually inspired by the family Little Traverse Conservancy has created— staff, members, volunteers, board, and community included. All of us coming together for the love of the land.”

Kyle Volp

Kyle spent his childhood fishing the river, exploring the forests and fields as an avid amateur entomologist, and enjoying all the other comforts rural Wisconsin has to offer. Big family excursions solidified his love for the outdoors.

Later in life, Kyle’s jobs took him to metro areas around the country, further away from how he grew up, further away from his love for being outside, surrounded by what the natural world has to offer. That is part
of the reason he was compelled to join the LTC Team. “I knew I would feel more at home here and I was overjoyed when I had the opportunity to not only live in this area, but work with a great organization like LTC to help preserve my new stomping grounds in this beautiful part of the country.”

Kyle hopes to settle in or near Petoskey with his beloved charcoal lab Monona. He is most excited for the stories people will tell him. “As I discover more of the area, I look forward to meeting people who are  familiar with and have connections to the land, the history, and what I can look forward to appreciating most as Monona and I go exploring on our own and with all of you!”

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