The NBNC Team

Staff photo June 2021 (1)

NBNC Staff: From left to right: Emily Sloan, Ken Benton, Carrie Riker, Chip Darmstadt, Amy Butler, Lauren Esserman, Jenna Plouffe, Braden DeForge, Chelsea Clarke, Sean Beckett, Lilla Fortunoff, Emily Seiffert.


The NBNC Education Team: Clockwise from top left: Pete Kerby-Miller, Fiona Modrak, Amy Butler, Carrie Riker, Ken Benton, Dave Muska, Jenna Plouffe, Sue Pratt, Arianna Dayharsh

executive directorChip Darmstadt (He/Him)

What Chip loves most about nature is sharing it with other people. When Chip is not on the phone or in a meeting, he's eagerly exploring everything from sedges to sandpipers. He received his masters degree from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where he studied people's attitudes towards snakes. A father of three boys, Chip and his wife Alisa live in Middlesex. Chip is a 24-hour naturalist: By day, he can be focused on birds or botany. And at night he's a skilled stargazer. Chip's latest obsessions include butterflies and lichens. Email Chip
802-229-6206 Extension: 105

Emily Seiffert  (She/Her)

After first joining NBNC in 2015 as Capital Campaign Coordinator, Emily’s role has expanded several times, and in 2022 she became our first Deputy Director.  Her primary work areas currently include fundraising/development, strategic plan execution, and communications. When not at NBNC, Emily might be found singing with the Montpelier Community Gospel Choir, volunteering as a board member of that choir, or out on the trails or waterways with her camera. She lives in Montpelier with two fellow amateur naturalists: her husband, George, and their 13-year-old, Tessa. Contact Emily
802-229-6206 Extension: 101

nbnc naturalistSean Beckett (He/Him)

Years ago in Costa Rica, a teenage Sean was awoken by his NBNC trip leader and shuffled into a humming jungle to experience his first dawn chorus of tropical songbirds. He went on to study Biology and Environmental Studies at Vassar College, and received his M.S. from UVM’s Field Naturalist and Ecological Planning Program. Sean has worked extensively as a wildlife ecologist, researching Atlantic Puffins in Maine, Saw-whet Owls in New York, raptors in Idaho, Pygmy-Owls in Mexico, and Clark’s Nutcrackers in Wyoming. Sean joins the NBNC staff after years of leading world-class wildlife safaris across North America, taking inquisitive travelers to the threshold of wolf dens, toe-to-toe with polar bears, and to the heart of Utah’s Canyonlands and deserts. Email Sean
802-229-6206 Extension: 102

naturalist teacherKenBenton

(He/Him)Growing up in the Ohio River Valley, Ken spent nearly every waking hour outside.  Whether it was trailing whitetails through claypan forests, catching panfish in farm ponds, or getting lost while searching for trilobite fossils in the creek, all of his formative memories have come outdoors.  After receiving a B.A. in Creative Writing from Miami University, he spent several years traveling the country, teaching environmental education through the Student Conservation Association and the Audubon Society.   Ken now has the honor of helping children form their own outdoor memories through NBNC’s programming. While Ken is not birding, hunting, or fishing with his son, he can be found foraging and creating delicious meals harvested from the wild. Email Ken
802-229-6206 Extension: 106


preschool educationAmy Butler (She/Her)

As young child, Amy loved catching snakes and riding her banana seat bike in the woods of Central New York. Her dream job has always been to work outside, all day, in all kinds of weather. She started her work with NBNC in 2010 by founding and developing the ECO program in partnership with area public schools. Amy’s vision is to see that all school children in Vermont have connected the natural world by opening their doors and stepping into the landscape that surrounds their communities. She is also a guest teacher and lecturer for Antioch University and brings NBNC’s story and mission of the importance of nature connection to conferences throughout the US. Amy has lived with her family at the base of Spruce Mountain in Plainfield for 18 years. She fully embraces the benefits of healthy risk taking and can be found trail running or backcountry skiing on Vermont’s most precarious terrain in every season. Contact Amy
802-229-6206 Extension: 104

Chelsea Clarke Sawyer (She/Her)

Chelsea has always been fascinated by the small and overlooked parts of nature, from a childhood spent searching for salamanders under rocks to a lasting obsession with barnacles and lichen. After earning her B.F.A. in printmaking from Maine College of Art, Chelsea spent several years searching for ways to combine her loves of art, nature, and adventure and share them with others. She worked on organic farms and screenprint studios in Maine and Massachusetts, on sightseeing boats in Alaska, and traveled to the Arctic to do outreach for a scientific expedition. After returning to New England, a series of connections set off by a red eft led Chelsea to Vermont where she received her M.S. from the University of Vermont Field Naturalist and Ecological Planning Program. When not working at NBNC she can be found hiking, swimming, vegetable gardening, hanging out with her partner and two pet rabbits, and starting more art projects than she will ever finish.

Arianna Dayharsh (She/Her)

Arianna spent a lot of her time as a child in and around the woods and brook by her home. Long-lasting memories were created while catching frogs and salamanders and building shelters in the winter. This fostered a love of the outdoors in all seasons. Arianna moved to Vermont to attend the Early Childhood Education program at UVM. During her student teaching she began to connect two of her interests; teaching children and being with nature. She holds a Level I teaching license in the state of Vermont. Arianna participated in the ECO Institute course at North Branch Nature Center which inspired her to follow the nature based education path. Arianna joined the NBNC team as an ECO teacher in 2019. She has moved on to become the Director of Forest Preschool for the 2021-2022 school year! She believes that all children should be given the opportunity to experience and form a connection to the natural world. Arianna intertwines nature based education, yoga, and mindfulness while working with children. In her free time you can find her hiking, swimming, or skiing with her dog Lilah. Email Arianna

Lauren Esserman (She/Her)

Lauren joined NBNC at the beginning of 2019, after having worn many hats working within small organizations. She has found the financial manager’s hat suits her well as she enjoys the strategic and structural thinking that helps an organization flourish — and she enjoys tapping into that part of her mind that as a kid loved to solve math puzzles.  Connecting people with nature has been a recurring theme in Lauren’s work, from advocating for stronger public lands protection in the Pacific Northwest to managing a Vermont farmers market. She is delighted to join our team with the goal of helping NBNC stay on a financially sustainable path so that we can cultivate a love of the natural world in many people over many years to come. Lauren holds a Master’s in Environmental Law degree from Vermont Law School. She and her teenage daughter and dog live in Richmond. She loves to kayak, bike, ski, ride horses, and follow wildlife tracks. She also loves to travel near or far, and speaks Chinese and French. Email Lauren
802-229-6206 Extension: 109

Pete Kerby-Miller (They/Them)

Pete grew up in Michigan, where they had the simultaneous joys of a nearby swamp, and trusting parents to whom “in the swamp” was sufficient detail to feel confident in the geographic location and safety of their child. Every day in a swamp there’s something new to find, or watch, or poke. Following years of stalking caddisflies and collecting cattail fluff, they pursued more formal ecological education, earning a BA in Conservation Biology at Middlebury college. Pete has split that past 4 years between instructing place-based education programs and academic ecology research from Vermont’s Green mountains to the lowland tropical forest of Panama. Pete is constantly amazed by the weird and wonderful ways our nonhuman neighbors make a living and finds great joy in sharing that wonder. When not knee-deep in a river or nose-deep in a field guide, you might find Pete mountain biking, foraging or wrenching at the community bike shop.

Fiona Modrak (She/Her)

Fiona stumbled into the world of environmental education nine years ago as the staff photographer for a summer camp in Ithaca, New York, where she realized that she really enjoyed working with kids. She spent six years teaching science curriculum on trails with various outdoor education centers across the country before receiving her Master's in Environmental Studies from the State University of New York's School of Environmental Science and Forestry. She is delighted to return to North Branch after having been summer camp staff, and excited to take on a new role as an ECO teacher. When not leading children outside to explore nature, she can be found on her own outdoors going for walks, listening to podcasts, and thinking about what kind of bread to bake next.

Dave Muska (He/Him)

Dave began his journey with the natural world exploring the streams, hillsides, and forests of the Susquehanna River Valley of New York.  As a teen, Dave was introduced to the world of wilderness living skills and found his first answers to a question he’d been asking for years: “How did people live on earth before the modern age… and how can I do that?” Dave has a B.S. in Environmental Biology from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY where he focused much of his attention on Mycology (the study of fungi). Dave has worked with children in outdoor education for the past 8 years and believes that developing a relationship with the natural world is a fundamental component of a healthy life and community.  When not at NBNC, Dave teaches classes and leads trips through his business, Ondatra Adventures, that is devoted to creating meaningful relationships with the natural world. Dave enjoys foraging for mushrooms and other foods and medicines, sleeping in leaf piles, creating from natural materials, backpacking, practicing traditional living skills, playing music, and running. Email Dave
802-229-6206 Extension: 111

Jenna Plouffe (She/Her)

Jenna spent her childhood exploring the woods and waters of Massachusetts, building homes for animals, making "potions," and exploring the tiny worlds often overlooked by adults. She has never really outgrown these things. Jenna is passionate about getting children outdoors, and loves sharing her curiosity and wonder about the natural world with children.

Jenna has a Master's degree in elementary education and spent 12 years teaching in Vermont's public school system. She completed the Educating Children Outdoors (ECO) Institute here at NBNC and spent several summers teaching at Audubon camps in both Massachusetts and Vermont before teaching for a year at NBNC's Forest Preschool. When Jenna is not teaching Forest Preschool or leading Robin's Nest Playgroup she can be found exploring the woods of the Mad River Valley with her children and husband. Email Jenna
802-229-6206 Extension: 112

Sue Pratt (She/Her)

Sue grew up on the Jersey shore swimming, surfing and enjoying the sun and sand. She was also lucky to have access to a beautiful patch of woods to explore. Here she found her love of nature. When her parents couldn't find her they knew she was catching frogs, building shelters, or checking out rocks. College took her to the Adirondacks where she fell in love with the wildness of nature. Ultimately back in New Jersey she received her degree from Rutgers University and pursued a career, but the woods were calling. Sue moved to Vermont, got her Masters in Education, and began her 34-year career teaching young children, including for many years at Barre Town Elementary School. Because Sue believes that children learn best in and through nature, she didn’t feel her career would be complete until she worked for an outdoor- and nature-based program. She is excited to join the Forest Preschool team as a part-time teacher.


teacher naturalistCarrie Riker (She/Her)

Carrie started her outside adventures making mud soup and cookies in her backyard treehouse in New Jersey.  She further perfected her creative concoctions with onion grass flavored pancakes served at the stone wall kitchen of her grandparents’ cottage in Connecticut.  Camping with Girl Scouts and lots of time with neighborhood children led to a BS in Early Childhood Education and Geoscience and teacher licensure. After some experiences with the Student Conservation Association and education programs reawakening youth to their earthly connections in South Carolina and Missouri, North Branch called her name in 1999 (and asked her to please live in the office for the summer!)   That experience helped her finish her M.S. in Environmental Studies from Antioch New England. She loves working again at NBNC leading ECO, afterschool programming, and summer camps. She has a great love for big and small nature moments, knows camp songs on just about every subject, and enjoys starting her day with tea on the porch with her four-legged companions. Email Carrie
802-229-6206 Extension: 107

Emily Sloan (She/Her)

Emily began her exploration of Nature within the inspiration of a chrysalis, once released from her cocoon her flight path eventually led her to NBNC in early 2008 as membership coordinator – but soon her job developed into aspects of management and administrative needs – program registration, billing, outreach, and volunteer coordination. Meeting and corresponding with all the families that gift NBNC with their life and enthusiasm, is a well-loved part of her job. Emily holds a BA in Environmental Studies & Photography, and an MFA in Visual Art, and is a licensed nurse assistant with CVHH&H. Before arriving at NBNC she worked for 10 years at Forest Watch and the Vermont Community College. Emily loves to hike, explore forests, swim, kayak and camp, give back with service work when she is able and is passionate about protecting and creating respect and awareness of our natural world for future generations to come. Emily lives in Worcester with her family and loves being able to bike to work much of the year! Email Emily
802-229-6206 Extension: 100

Emily Wetherell, President
Richard Paradis, Vice President
Georgia Valentine, Treasurer
Carol Vassar, Secretary
Bob Klein
Richard Littauer
Emily Merrill
Karen Saudek
Jan Thouron

North Branch Nature Center

713 Elm Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
(802) 229-6206

Hours: Center Open Monday-Friday 9-4
Trails Open 24/7