Who We Are

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for Board, Trail Leaders Council, and staff

STAFFBOARDTRAIL LEADERS COUNCIL
Staff

Valerie Rupp (she/her), Executive Director

Valerie is a seasoned nonprofit management professional with extensive experience in partnership, development, communications, planning, both program and project management, and administration. Valerie joined PNTS on August 2020 and established the Partnership’s new offices in Washington, D.C. She was the unanimous choice of a Partnership search committee and the recommendation was approved by the PNTS Board of Directors.

As Executive Director she provides overall leadership for the Partnership. She is responsible for advancing the organization’s strategic goals, and for ensuring the day-to-day operations to support that work effectively and efficiently. She has extensive experience in development, communications, public-private partnership as well as both program and project management.

Previously, she worked for Parks & People Foundation for eight years where she focused on engaging cross-sector partners and communities in the creation, study, activation, and stewardship of urban parks and green spaces, as well as external relations and fundraising. Prior to Parks & People Foundation, she led the fundraising and external relations as Development Director for the Women’s Law Center of Maryland and worked in development, visitor services and education in various positions with the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

Valerie holds a Bachelor’s degree in history and communications from Shippensburg University and a Master’s in public administration from the University of Baltimore, where she was selected the top graduate student for academic achievement and civic leadership. She also earned a Certificate in Volunteer Management while completing a term of service with Volunteer Maryland, an AmeriCorps program.

She lives in Baltimore, MD, a city boasting three National Historic Trails. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Friend’s of Maryland’s Olmsted Parks and a volunteer with the Maryland SPCA where she spends some of her favorite hours helping dogs and cats find homes. In her free time she enjoys outdoor adventures near and far and exploring different art venues and museums.

Contact Valerie at valerie@pnts.org 

Felicita ‘Lis’ Wight (she/her), Operations Coordinator

Felicita Wight recently joined the PNTS team as Operations Coordinator. She has a background in conservation biology and has a master’s in environmental science. She previously worked at the National Wildlife Refuge and Nature Center, where she focused on community education and grassroots engagement—as well as getting to handle alligators, snakes, and raptors. She later worked for the American Geophysical Union heading their award-winning Centennial initiative.

To elevate her passions and interests, she runs a nonprofit, Wild Tiger, dedicated to persevering Bengal tigers and their habitat. The current focus is on the tiger pet trade here in the US and organizing an eco expedition for 2022. Felicita also is a volunteer campaign manager for a habitat connectivity initiative with the Endangered Species Coalition. As an outdoor enthusiast, she loves spending time in nature, and as a history and trail fan, she is excited to contribute to the PNTS mission.

Contact Lis at felicita@pnts.org

Cara Yendrzeski (she/her), Program Coordinator

Cara Yendrzeski  joined PNTS as a Program Coordinator in February 2021, where she is excited to coordinate training and educational opportunities for the national trails community.

Cara is a passionate environmental advocate who has worked with Citizens Climate Lobby and Chesapeake Climate Action Network to advance climate policy. For the past year she has volunteered with Capital Nature as a Program Research Volunteer, finding new and exciting nature events to promote in the Washington D.C. metro area and researching health and environmental benefits of urban green spaces.

Cara holds a BS in Environmental Studies from Le Moyne College and a Master’s degree in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School.

Contact Cara at cara@pnts.org

Kiana Etsate-Gashytewa (she/her), Indigenous Mapping and Research Coordinator

Kiana Etsate-Gashytewa joined the PNTS team as the Indigenous Mapping and Research Coordinator in January 2022. She will lead a project occurring in collaboration with Native Land Digital (Native-Land.ca), Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps, and Federal land management agencies in 2022 that will develop a public, interactive GIS map that integrates the National Trails System map and data disseminated by Native Lands Digital, the creators of an online, interactive map showing Indigenous territories.

Etsate-Gashytewa is an Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps member and received her education from Northern Arizona University’s Applied Indigenous Studies and Political Science programs. Etsate-Gashytewa is from the Pueblo of Zuni and Hopi tribes and has developed an extensive policy and research resume that includes working on numerous programs related to Native youth enrichment and in the Flagstaff office of Congressman Tom O’Halleran. 

Contact Kiana at kiana@pnts.org

Contractors
Don Owen

Don Owen, of Round Hill, Virginia, is the senior executive of Lands Trails and Parks LLC, a consulting firm specializing in working with national scenic and historic trail organizations, non-profit land trusts, conservation groups, and parks.

He consults regularly for the Partnership for the National Trails System, the Maryland Environmental Trust, the West Virginia Land Trust, the Land Trust of Virginia, and a variety of other conservation organizations. He also serves as the Potomac River Watershed Circuit Rider for the Land Trust Alliance.

Don worked for the National Park Service from 1985 to 2008 in several different capacities: as a realty specialist for the Appalachian Trail Land Office, as the resource management coordinator for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy on special assignment, and as the environmental protection specialist with the Appalachian Trail Park Office.

He then served as executive director of the Land Trust of Virginia from 2008 until 2014. Don was a volunteer trail maintainer for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club from 1988 to 2013, and continues to serve as a volunteer corridor monitor.

He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, the Stewardship Council for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Advisory Council for the Mosby Heritage Area Association.

Liz Wessel

Liz WesselLiz Wessel opened Green Concierge Travel in 2006. She has a strong interest in building the market for ecotourism and supplying the needs of ecotravelers, either inbound or outbound, to destinations in North America and beyond. By identifying and enhancing links between ecotourism destinations in North America and green tourism infrastructure such as lodging, transit, restaurants, indigenous sites and local natural areas and trails we can continue to strengthen the ecotourism market in North America.

In her consulting work for Partnership for the National Trails System, she has supported fundraising efforts, coordinated the 2013 Biennial conference in Tucson, and worked on the redesign of the Partnership website. She currently manages special projects.

Board of Directors
RG Absher (he/him/his) – Trail Leaders Council Chair


RG g
raduated from NC State University in 1978 with a degree in Natural Resource Management. After retiring as a Park Manager in 2010 with the US Army Corps, he continued working in trails as Executive Director of the Yadkin River Greenway and a volunteer with the Overmountain Victory Trail Association.

 


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

Love advancing national trails!

What are you most proud of?

Being a trail advocate and supporting the work of PNTS.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Interpretation of the Trail and its story!

 

 

Oforiwaa Pee Agyei-Boakye (she/her/hers)

Oforiwaa Pee Agyei-Boakyeis a Ph.D. student studying Geography at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She is also a GIS and data analytics consultant at Gonigs Inc. Brought up in Ghana, she developed a deep interest in sustainability, environmental, and conservation issues in her formative years. She was a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) Youth Perspectives on Climate Change Work Group. She has been involved in trail activities through these issues in her academic work, volunteering, and leadership positions in the US and Sub-Saharan Africa. She is a former member of the Appalachian Trails Conservancy NextGen Advisory Council, an American Trails Association Hulet Hornbeck Emerging Trails Leader, and was part of the 2017 World Trails Network Trail Visionaries Expedition Team to Tottori, Japan. She coordinated the 2021 Appalachian Trails Conservancy Emerging Leaders’ Summit equity map sessions.

 


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

As a hiker who uses trails around the world, volunteering for the Partnership for the National Trail Systems allows me to utilize my skill set, resources, and connections to make the national trails system vibrant and more efficient.

What are you most proud of?

My contribution to trail work around the world.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Trails and Urban Planning

 

 

Justin Fisch (he/him/his)

Justin is an environmental and energy attorney with Morrison & Foerster LLP in San Francisco, California. Prior to joining the firm, Justin served as term professor at the University of Ottawa, teaching introduction to environmental law. Prior to law school, he worked for the National Geographic Society. Justin is a professional guide. Justin’s pro bono interests in law lie in conservation and protected area establishment.

 


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

The PNTS is the backbone that holds together the National Trails System. It is an honor and a privilege to work to strengthen the organization, and by doing so, the trails, communities, and people it serves.

What are you most proud of?

Joining the PNTS Board!

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Talk to me about peakbagging, polar regions, law and politics, and being outside.

 

Steve Gonzales (he/him/his)


A native of Texas, Steven Gonzales obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Cultural Geography with a minor in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin. His studies focused on Spanish missions and presidios on the Northern Frontier of New Spain. Steven later earned a Master of Applied Geography degree from Texas State University at San Marcos. His research focused on case studies of national scenic and historic trails from across the country and the measures they took to get their trails on the ground. Steve has always felt that people can better appreciate the place they find themselves in by understanding its cultural and natural history. In addition to being executive director of El Camino Real de los Tejas NHT Association, Steve has also served as an advisor for the Texas Historical Commission’s Hispanic Heritage Guide of Texas and also volunteers with Pug Rescue Austin. 


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

I volunteer with the PNTS because of my love for trails and what they can do to bring communities together! Whether learning about the history of a route’s effect on an area or gazing upon the natural beauty of a scenic trail in the wilds of America, our National Trails System offers something for everyone and it is an unparalleled resource that allows us to share our country’s story with the world!

What are you most proud of?

Professionally, I am most proud of my work in protecting and developing the Lobanillo Swales along El Camino Real de los Tejas NHT. Set to be sold off at auction in 2014, the site contains the most dramatic remnants of the physical that we are aware of. And the project fully demonstrated the intent of public-private partnerships mandated in the National Trails System Act.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Talk to me about trails, rivers, and the landscapes of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico.

 

 

 

John Hoffnagle (he/him/his)

John is a long-time conservation professional who worked with the Yale School of Forestry, the Oregon Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Land Trust of Napa County, and the Oregon State Parks Foundation. He served as executive director of The Land Trust from 1988-2012, during which time he facilitated the acquisition of more than 50,000 acres and completed a $27 million capital campaign, Napa Valley Wild, to acquire the 3,000-acre Wildlake Ranch. John is a former board member of the Pacific Crest Trail Association and hiked the PCT from Mexico to Canada between 2015-18.


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

I am passionate about the breadth of National Scenic and Historic Trails across the United States.

What are you most proud of?

I have been married 38 years and have raised a couple of great kids.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, whale watching on the Oregon Coast, and acquiring western lands for conservation.

 

Andrea Ketchmark (she/her/hers)

Andrea is the Executive Director of the North Country Trail Association. She has a degree in Natural Resources Recreation and Tourism from Colorado State University, where she fell in love with trails and connecting people to outdoor spaces. Prior to joining the NCTA, she managed the Volunteer Vacations program for the American Hiking Society, which allowed her to travel the country to lead volunteer projects across America’s vast network of public lands. Andrea has engaged in building countless partnering relationships at state, national, and local levels, and represents the NCTA in the larger trails and recreation community.


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

The National Trails System provides endless ways for Americans to explore our public lands, our history, and to connect with each other. It’s a wonderful cause and there is no better community of advocates for the outdoors and trails than the members of PNTS.

What are you most proud of?

Being part of the passage of the John Dingell Act and succeeding with permanent and full funding of LWCF.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Good books, bonsai, and my new ukelele.

 

 

 

Jamie Loucky (he/him/his)

Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Jaime discovered an early love of the outdoors by hiking in and around the North Cascades. He studied Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and had various careers in international development, management consulting and nonprofit leadership. He is now thrilled to be a part of the Washington Trails Association, the nation’s largest trail-based nonprofit.


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

I’m passionate about the work PNTS does to protect our national trail system and to represent the full range of people who love and benefit from trails. I’m excited to help connect everyone who loves the outdoors with opportunities to support and speak out on behalf of trails.

What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the work I’m doing with the Washington Trails Association to develop new, innovative approaches to trail stewardship and to bring more equitable practices and programs to outdoor recreation and conservation.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Talk to me about hikes in the North Cascades, urban gardening tips and approaches to building equity in the outdoors.

 

Luke Kloberdanz (he/him/his) – Vice President of Governance


After thru-hiking the Ice Age Trail in 2003 and volunteering for more than a decade, Luke decided to put his educational psychology degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to work and join the Ice Age Trail Alliance staff in 2013. Since then he has held several positions ranging from Outreach and Education to resident grill operator to his current role as Director of Philanthropy. He has since been demoted to secondary grill operator.


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

I volunteer with PNTS because I believe in the power of trails to connect people, improve communities, and provide a medium for personal growth for all.

What are you most proud of?

Professionally, I am most proud of helping the Alliance and PNTS grow as organizations. Personally, I am proud of raising two boys with my wife.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Widespread Panic, trail-side cookoffs, Wisconsin beers, stonework on trails.

 

 

 

Barney Mann (he/him/his) —  President


Barney “Scout” Mann is a trail advocate, retired attorney, long-distance hiker, and author. His most recent book, Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail, was a 2020 Banff Book Festival Adventure Travel finalist. Mann had a 25-year career as a real estate and business lawyer. He served on the Board of the Pacific Crest Trail Association from 2008 to 2017 (Board Chair for three years). He serves on the Board of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and served as its President. Mann thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with his wife in 2007, thru-hiked the Continental Divide Trail in 2015, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2017 and the Arizona Trail in 2021. Mann resides with his wife Sandy in San Diego, CA.


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

I get to actually assist and support our 30 National Scenic and Historic Trails.

What are you most proud of?

Can’t choose only one: Being married 43 years, my latest book, our grandsons or kids.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Talk to me about this great nonprofit called The Partnership for the National Trails System, being married for 43 years, our two grandsons, or my latest book.

 

 

Kristin Murphy (she/her/hers)

Kristin Murphy is the Government Affairs Associate for Audubon Great Lakes, based in Chicago, IL. Previously, Murphy worked in Washington D.C. as the Campaign Coordinator for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Coalition and was an inaugural member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Next Generation Advisory Council. She holds a Master of Environmental Management with a focus on Environmental Economics and Policy from Duke University, and a Bachelor of Science in Earth Systems, the Environment, and Society from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

I didn’t learn about our National Scenic and Historic Trails until my early 20’s and, not only do I feel like I need to make up for lost time and help protect these iconic public lands, but I also know that I’m not the only one who spent much of their life unaware of the beauty of our National Trails. I feel very passionate about access and inclusion in the outdoors, and I want everyone to know about and be able to enjoy the mental and physical health benefits that our trails can offer. I volunteer in order to bring a new perspective and challenge the status quo of both the internal and external work that PNTS does.

What are you most proud of?

Working with the LWCF Coalition to pass the Great American Outdoors Act with full and permanent funding for LWCF!

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Yoga, books, exploring cities by foot.

 


Kaleo Paik (she/her/hers)

A University of Hawaii graduate in the School of Music in a classical voice which she chose not to pursue. Her career has been in fiscal management leaning heavily on accounting. Kaleo has owned her own business where she gained much knowledge on business savvy. She belongs to a diverse number of boards and serves as an officer on four of them. Outside of her work, Kaleo is very active in community volunteerism concentrating on Hawaiian cultural preservation and protection.


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

I believe in trails and the importance that trails have on our wellbeing. There is nothing compared to hiking in the outdoors and being one with the elements. The volunteer hours are essential to building a sustainable trail system that supports a healthy and enriching lifestyle.

What are you most proud of?

Being part of the elder council in which I can share what I have learned over my lifetime and see that knowledge passed on to the next generation.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Ask me what it means to be a Hawaiian in this time and how can we make our culture relevant to the next generations.

 

 

 

 

 

Tony Richardson (he/him/his)


Tony is passionate about connecting people to nature. He currently serves as a program director for the National Environmental Educational Foundation (NEEF) in Washington, DC. In this role, he helps manage National Public Lands Day (NPLD), one of the nation’s largest single-day volunteer efforts for America’s public lands.


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

I am passionate about connecting people to nature, both in my career with NEEF and my volunteer efforts.

What are you most proud of?

Becoming an Eagle Scout is still one of my proudest accomplishments.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

My tag would say talk to me about landscape photography, cooking and doggos!

 

 

 

Liz “Snorkel” Thomas (she/her/hers) — Secretary


Liz Thomas is a professional hiker, speaker, and outdoor writer who held the women’s self-supported speed record on the 2,181-mile long Appalachian Trail. Called a “thru-hiking legend” by Outside Magazine for her innovative urban thru-hikes, Liz has also hiked 20+ long-distance trails, including the Triple Crown of Hiking (AT, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail) and first known traverses of the Wasatch Range and Chinook Trail. Liz is a former staff writer for the New York Times/Wirecutter and current Editor-in-Chief for the outdoor web magazine Treeline Review, as well as contributing editor and columnist of “Ask a Thru-hiker” for Backpacker Magazine. She’s the author of Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-hike, which received the 2017 National Outdoor Book Award for Best Instructional Book with judges calling it destined to become the “Bible of the Sport.” She holds a Master of Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry (now Yale School of the Environment), where she received a Doris Duke Conservation Fellowship for her work on distance trails and trail town communities.


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

As a hiker, I know how important corridor conservation is to complete long trails. The long-distance trails are stronger together as they share best practices and do advocacy. As someone who has been fortunate enough to hike multiple trails in the system, volunteering with the system allows me to give back to not just one, but many trails.

What are you most proud of?

This one is hard, but giving a talk at my alma mater about hiking is high on that list.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

Yoga, books, exploring cities by foot

 

 

 

 

Ron Tipton (he/him/his)


Ron’s public and personal life has centered on visiting and protecting National Parks, Wilderness Areas, and National Trails. The most important event which set his career direction was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 1978.


Why do you volunteer with PNTS?

To use my knowledge, experience, and passion for hiking and the outdoors to enhance the stature and the level of investment in the National Trails System.

What are you most proud of?

Besides hiking the Appalachian Trail, my deeply rewarding 42 years of marriage to Rita and our son, Will.

If you were wearing a name tag saying “talk to me about…” what would it say?

National Parks and hiking experience and college basketball.

 

  • Ray (RG) Absher — Overmountain Victory Trail Association  *TLC Chair
  • Troy Ainsworth — El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
  • Ron Anderson — Morman Pioneer Trail Association
  • Judy Bittner — Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance
  • Clare Cain — Connecticut Forest & Park Association (NENST)
  • Sarah Cawley — Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation
  • Liam Cregan — Appalachian Mountain Club
  • Marcie Davis — E Mau Na Ala Hele (Ala Kahakai)
  • Ric “FB” Francke — Potomac Heritage Trail Association
  • Steven Gonzales — El Camino Real de los Tejas NHT Association
  • Patrick Hearty — National Pony Express Association
  • Andrea Ketchmark — North Country Trail Association
  • Jeff Kish — Pacific Northwest Trail Association
  • Justin Kooyman — Pacific Crest Trail Association
  • James L. Mallory — Lewis & Clark Trust, Inc.
  • Bill Martin — Oregon-California Trails Association
  • Teresa Martinez — Continental Divide Trail Coalition
  • Brendan Mysliwiec — Appalachian Trail Conservancy
  • Matthew Nelson — Arizona Trail Association
  • Matt Nowak — Nez Perce Trail Foundation
  • Kaleo Paik — Ala Kahakai Trail Association
  • Reed Perry — Chesapeake Conservancy
  • Elizabeth Stewart — Anza Trail Foundation
  • Tony Turnbow — Natchez Trace Parkway Association
  • Kelly Van Patten — Florida Trail Association
  • Ellen von Karajan — Washington Rochambeau NHT Association
  • Richard Waller — Old Spanish Trail Association
  • Marcia Will-Clifton — Santa Fe Trail Association
  • Jim Wolf — Continental Divide Trail Society
  • Mike Wollmer — Ice Age Trail Alliance
  • Deloris Gray Wood — Trail of Tears Association