The NBNC Team

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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, 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 

Arianna Dayharsh - Teacher-Naturalist

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. She has spent time hiking and camping around Vermont, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Western U.S, as well as New Zealand and Australia. 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 in 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 bring learning outside of her own classroom at Brookfield Elementary school. She is thrilled to now be teaching ECO at Moretown Elementary School! 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. Contact Arianna

Lauren Esserman, Finance & Administration Manager

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. Contact Lauren

Leslie Hill, Forest Preschool Teacher

Leslie is the oldest of 4 children born in Stony Creek Connecticut, a shoreline town north of New Haven. She raised her four children in a log cabin in the Mad River Valley of Vermont. Leslie graduated from Norwich University in 2002 with a double major in literature and developmental psychology, and an early educator’s teaching license.

Leslie has experience with both the Montessori and Reggio Emilia teaching methods, and brings to NBNC more than 25 years of teaching children ages 0-9.  She has worked in a variety of places including as a preschool teacher for the Rumney School, a Life is Good Playmaker for the Kids Foundation in Boston, and as a Health and Wellness Life Coach trained by The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC.  

Native American practices of honoring the earth are an important focus for Leslie.  She enjoys a daily yoga and meditation practice, outdoor exercise activities, reading, cooking, music, and dinners with friends and family. Contact Leslie

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. Contact Dave

Jenna Plouffe, Forest Preschool Teacher

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. When Jenna is not at Forest Preschool she can be found exploring the woods of the Mad River Valley with her children and husband. Contact Jenna

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

Erica Schwabach, AmeriCorps Teacher Naturalist

Erica first started forming a deep connection to nature in Central New York's Mohawk River Valley, exploring the local woods with her most trusted companion and mentor, her Dad. As a six-year-old, her family traveled to the California Redwoods and Oregon coast to explore massive, ancient trees and find starfish hiding in tidal pools. This experience awakened a powerful sense of wonder and awe for the incredible natural world in which we live. This curiosity and love of nature is what she aims to impart in those she teaches and mentors. For the past several years, Erica has worked in various environmental education roles from K-12 and beyond.

She has her B.S. in Environmental Studies and Biological Applications, and a Graduate Certificate in Environmental Leadership, from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) in Syracuse, NY. Erica recently completed the 9-month program, "Essentials of Resilient Communities," with the Vermont Wilderness School. Erica found her way to NBNC in September 2019 following her passions of mentoring youth, specifically with models such as the Core Routines of Nature Connection. She hopes to learn all she can this year about wildlife tracking, herbal medicine, wild foraged foods, nature mentoring, and all that Vermont has to offer. Contact Erica

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, 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 Board of Directors

Chip Darmstadt, Executive Director
Laura Fried
Bob Klein
Sarah McKearnan
Richard Paradis, Vice President
Karen Saudek, President
Stephan Syz
Jan Thouron
Georgia Valentine, Treasurer
Emily Wetherell, Secretary

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

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