The NBNC Team


Chip Darmstadt, Executive Director

executive directorWhat 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. Contact Chip 

Sean Beckett, Staff Naturalist

nbnc naturalistYears 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. Contact Sean 

Ken Benton, Teacher Naturalist

naturalist teacherGrowing 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. Contact Ken 


Amy Butler, Director of Education

preschool educationAs 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 

Zac Cota, AmeriCorps Teacher Naturalist

AmeriCorpZac’s journey into the environmental field started with a male Hooded Merganser. Captured by its quirky charm, he snapped a picture and uploaded it to the iNaturalist Vermont project. Hooked on birds and citizen science ever since, he finds his motivation in sharing the marvels of the natural world with others. Having previously interned and volunteered with NBNC, Zac returned in 2017 as an AmeriCorps Member. His new role with NBNC includes work with ECO, Forest Preschool, camps, and citizen science programs. When not at NBNC, Zac volunteers as a Firefighter/EMT, leads youth programs with Outright Vermont, and serves on the Planning Commission in Hyde Park. He enjoys card games, musical theater, and is on a quest to find the perfect tuna melt. Contact Zac 

Harriet Hart, Forest Preschool Teacher

Harriet is a transplant from the Yorkshire Dales National Park in the United Kingdom. Growing up she spent many a morning wandering the open moorland, making footprints in the bogs, and listening to the larks. Arriving in America in 2011, she has worked at nature centers in Philadelphia and in Cincinnati, received a certificate in Nature Based Early Childhood Education and a Masters in Elementary and Early Childhood Education from Antioch University New England, and become a licensed teacher. Harriet delights in cultivating joy and wonder in adults and children where nature is concerned. She freely shares her enthusiasm for the weather and is particularly fond of rain. Contact Harriet

Dave Muska, Teacher Naturalist

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.

Melora Kennedy, Robin's Nest Nature Playgroup Leader

Melora remembers the first time she realized that children benefit profoundly from time in nature. While in Chelsea, Vermont, she had the privilege of teaching the same group of kids for six years. Chelsea was situated in the landscape so that her group could walk to the woods, to a stream, or to a peaceful cemetery in just five minutes from the classroom door. Whenever her kids were getting tense or angry with each other, the group could grab their jackets and head outside. After a few moments in the forest, the negative feelings would reliably dissipate. At NBNC, Melora sees that young children are very quickly immersed in their activity in the landscape without much need for adult direction. She enjoys sharing this space with them, following and supporting whatever sparks their interest.

Carrie Riker, Teacher Naturalist

teacher naturalistCarrie 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. Contact Carrie

Emily A. Seiffert, Communications Manager & Capital Campaign Coordinator

communications managerEmily's favorite explorations in nature involve her family, her camera, and a paddle. She joined NBNC in 2015 to work on our capital campaign, and her role soon expanded. In 2018 she officially took on management of our communications, marketing and branding. When not at NBNC, Emily might be found singing with the Montpelier Community Gospel Choir, volunteer-teaching a Four Winds Nature Institute lesson at Union Elementary School, or out on the trails or waterways with her camera. She lives in Montpelier with two fellow amateur naturalists: her husband and son. Contact Emily 

Emily Sloan, Office Manager

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! Contact Emily.  

Mary Zentara, Co-Teacher & Director of Forest Preschool

preschool teacherMary’s desire to engage with children in the forest was seeded at an early age when she perched in hemlock trees, stomped through backwoods brooks, and consistently arrived home in wet, muddy sneakers. She holds a B.A. in Communications with a minor in Graphic Arts, earned Masters credits in Psychology and Education, is a graduate of the Outdoor Leadership Program, and holds a VT Early Learning Level 111A Certificate. Mary started her work at NBNC in 2013 as the lead Forest Preschool teacher and later, utilizing her weave of academic and life experience, developed a full-time, licensed preschool. For 15 years, Mary has had the honor of being present with children while supporting their growth and development in natural spaces. She delights is interlacing the traditional routines of oral storytelling, open-ended questions and conversation, song, and gratitude into the rhythm of the outdoor classroom. She is deeply excited about the links between nature immersion, mindfulness, child development, and child-led learning. Mary lives with her family in Montpelier, and on occasion, can be spotted perched in a tree with her daughter. Contact Mary

Our 2018 Summer Camp Field Staff

Kate Brocato

Kate is a senior at the University of Vermont and is originally from Baltimore, MD. Kate majors in Environmental Studies with a special interest in environmental education and experiential learning. Kate recently returned from a semester abroad studying sustainable development in Costa Rica. Incredible as it was, Kate is happy to be back in Vermont this summer. This is Kate's first year as Field Staff, but some of her favorite memories were made over many years as a camper and counselor at NBNC summer camps. Kate is looking forward to making many more memories at NBNC this year!

Colleen Hertz

Colleen couldn’t be more excited to spend time exploring outside with NBNC summer camps. For the past three years, she has worked as an early childhood classroom teacher with the YMCA in Burlington, and has always been particularly drawn to environmental education and the magic of connecting children with nature. Colleen received a degree in Environmental Studies and Philosophy from UVM, and an MA in Environmental Policy from American University.

Megan McKay

Megan is an educator with a passion for the environment that stemmed from growing up exploring Vermont’s outdoors. After high school, Megan studied Wildlife Conservation and Management at the University of Arizona. She developed a love for environmental education while studying in Tucson's desert ecosystem. Megan has worked teaching students about sustainable practices through her school’s community garden and was most recently a K-12 educator teaching students about ecosystem adaptations at Biosphere 2. While she may call the desert her home, for now, Megan is very excited to spend a summer back in Vermont to share her passion of the great outdoors with campers.

North Branch Nature Center

713 Elm Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
(802) 229-6206
[email protected]

Office Open Monday-Friday from 9 am to 4 pm
Trails Open 24/7