Ryan took over as Executive Director in January 2012 after spending the last four years woking in Charleston, SC as the Assistant Director of Land Protection for the SC Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Ryan received his B.A. from The University of the South in Sewanee, TN and his J.D from the Charleston School of Law in Charleston, SC. Throughout his educational and professional career, Ryan has worked in and on behalf of the environment and specifically focused his legal studies on environmental, property and land use law. He credits his summer camp and Outward Bound experiences as the most transformational periods of his life and could not be more excited to now be focusing on providing the same experiential opportunities to other youth. A believer that we all need more “Ah Ha” moments in our lives, Ryan sees Muddy Sneakers as a leader in the “nature deficit disorder/no child left inside” movement and feels the disconnect between the world’s youth and the natural world needs to be one of the primary focuses of the modern environmental movement. An avid traveler and outdoor enthusiast, Ryan traveled extensively and spent time living in New Zealand and Colorado before returning to the southeast. His other interests include music/film/literature, surfing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, camping and traveling with his family in their VW bus, Lolo. Ryan and his wife Maria, along with their two daughters Anderson and Clara, live in Pisgah Forest, NC.
Western North Carolina Program Director
Lindsay grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, but thankfully discovered her love of the outdoors while attending college at the University of Georgia. While there, she worked as a raft guide in the summers and spent many weekends camping along the Chattooga River. Upon graduating, she moved to Brevard where she began teaching Environmental Education. Her 10-year career with the Wildlife Resources Commission set the foundation for her love of wildlife. When not leading a Muddy Sneaker’s group, she spends time volunteering or working in the field studying various wildlife species found in WNC. In addition, Lindsay has a gardening business, called ‘Sprout’, which fulfills her love of plants. When she’s not working or learning to be a new momma, she’s outside in her garden, hiking, trail running, mountain biking, or on the river… and hopes to satiate her never dying travel bug again one of these days.
Field Instructors[back to top]
Naturalist and educator Carlton Burke lives in Mills River, NC where he operates an educational service called “Carolina Mountain Naturalists” which specializes in presenting live animal and nature programs and displays for area schools, summer camps, and many other organizations. Carlton was also on staff for over 25 years as the Curator of Exhibits at the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, NC. He is also a state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator and can be heard each Saturday morning co-hosting NATURE NEWS, a local, hour-long radio program, featuring news from the natural world around the western NC region.
Bill was a career meteorologist with the US Air Force and has lots of experience working with kids in his decade-plus as Head Coach for the Asheville Lightning Track and Field Junior Olympic team. He has worked closely with teenagers through year-long coming-of-age programs organized by his church. Being outdoors while leading and mentoring children is something Bill has enjoyed since the late 1980′s.
Elsa is a returning Muddy Sneakers instructor hailing from way up in Madison County. A self-described nature nerd, she has put her degree in Biology from UNC-Chapel Hill to use in all sorts of ways. From trail crew in California, the rainforests of Costa Rica and Ecuador, to our own back yard working with ecologists on the Blue Ridge Parkway or leading teens on wilderness expeditions, she has always had a love of working outdoors, exploring, and learning. When she’s not getting muddy with kids in the woods, she works as a gardener and experiments with homesteading on the small farm where she lives.
Environmental educator Molly Dullanty spends her winters in the Blue Ridge Mountains and her summers in Alaska’s mountains. Two Springs and two Autumns allows for plenty of time to wildflower hunt, bird watch, hike, canoe, fish, garden and watch wildlife. A naturalist and outdoor enthusiast, Molly loves wild places and fresh air. When she is not hiking students through the woods, you’ll find her guiding folks in the remote Alaskan wilderness, picking blueberries, or warming up by a campfire.
Fred was born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but never really saw them in his youth. After retirement, he returned to western North Carolina to both enjoy its beauty but also to give back to the local communities and show his appreciation for this incredible landscape. After receiving the Blue Ridge Naturalist Certificate from UNC-Asheville, he has led hundreds of people on nature walks in the hills, along the rivers and trails. Fred relates that Muddy Sneakers gives him the opportunity to further his humble goal of sharing his love of this place with local children.
Leslie Prescott Cawlfield
Leslie spent five years teaching 5th grade in Henderson County, NC prior to becoming an instructor with Muddy Sneakers. While teaching 5th grade, she was introduced to the Muddy Sneakers program and immediately recognized that it was an essential program for the current generation of students. Even though she had left the classroom, Leslie knew she still had a love for teaching and Muddy Sneakers offered the perfect opportunity for her to continue using her education skills while combining her passion for being in nature and teaching kids. In addition to instructing for Muddy Sneakers, Leslie also teaches yoga, tutors students, and leads a preschool nature group called ‘Little Nature Explorers’ Club’. When not working, she enjoys spending time in the great outdoors and exploring the world with her husband and two children.
Joanne has worked in elementary schools for 24 years. She began her education career as a guidance counselor for 6 years in Catawba County, NC. She followed that with 18 years as a teacher in Catawba, Burke and Buncombe Counties as well as 2 years of teaching in Guadalajara, Mexico. She always worked hard to incorporate a great deal of science into her classroom teaching because of the enjoyment it brought her students.
Joanne was awarded the Math/Science Teacher of the Year in Catawba County, has participated in numerous workshops sponsored by University of North Carolina – Asheville and Appalachian State University promoting science in the schools and has helped as a teacher consultant with the Catawba Science Center in Hickory. She has been an outdoor enthusiast all her life and appreciates the opportunity to continue sharing this passion with children.
Ben is a native of the Southwest Virginia but has spent significant time in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains beginning at a young age. Many childhood summers spent at Green River Preserve (GRP) summer camp in Cedar Mountain, NC profoundly shaped his environmental awareness and firmly grounded his sense of place. After graduating from Davidson College, he spent a year travelling through Ireland and west Africa on a Watson Fellowship studying the connections between Appalachian fiddle/banjo music and the traditional music of Ireland and Senegambia. Back in the states, Ben returned to the southern Appalachians to work for Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy in Hendersonville, NC. Land conservation eventually led him back to Green River Preserve, where he discovered environmental education, what he considers his true vocation. At GRP, Ben worked as a mentor and expedition leader and through that work, became connected with Muddy Sneakers where he humbly and joyfully has continued his passion for introducing children to environmental/experiential education. Exploring and teaching about the Appalachian landscape has led him to also care deeply for the people and cultures that inhabit it, and to express that respect Ben immerses himself in playing the fiddle and the banjo; calling square dances; and collecting the stories of Appalachian elders.
Devin spent the majority of his childhood exploring the Pennsylvania farms, forests, and streams he grew up around. Well, not too much has changed! After graduating from Brevard College with a degree in Environmental Studies, he set off to see the world. He hiked volcanoes in Guatemala, went scuba diving amongst the coral reefs of the Caribbean and guided rafts down frigid whitewater rivers in Washington state. He has since moved back to Brevard, NC where in addition to leading field expedition for Muddy Sneakers, he works at the Cradle of Forestry in America as the Education and Outreach Specialist. In his spare time, you will probably find him spending time with his family, working in his garden, playing guitar, mountain biking, hunting or fishing. Devin has an adventurous spirit and loves to share his knowledge and excitement of the natural world with everyone who joins him on a Muddy Sneakers Expedition.
Doug Walsh worked as a middle school science teacher for 21 years in Indiana followed by another 7 years in Henderson County, NC before retiring and coming to work for Muddy Sneakers. As a teacher in Indiana, Doug designed and developed an outdoor classroom and nature trail for environmental education purposes at the middle school where he worked. His hobbies/interests include hiking, kayaking, photography, American frontier history and historical reenacting. Doug has traveled extensively including every U.S state except Hawaii as well as travel abroad to Belize, Mexico, France, Italy and Switzerland. While in the Alps, he hiked the complete Tour du Mont Blanc.
Katie Newton grew up in the Midwest where she developed a love for the outdoors. After attending a semester at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) she migrated south to attend Appalachian State University and has remained in the southern Appalachians since. Studying recreation management and outdoor education, Katie did an environmental education internship in Portland, Oregon and then came back to work as a Park Ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Later she took a position with South Carolina State Park Service as a seasonal naturalist where she continues to enjoy seasonal naturalist work at Jones Gap State Park. Katie’s passion lies in educating the public about our natural world and has truly enjoyed becoming a field instructor for Muddy Sneakers. On a part-time basis, Katie works with youth with autism and other developmental disabilities in a residential setting at Talisman Academy in Henderson County, NC. When possible, she loves to engage these students in outdoor experiences such as hiking and camping trips. In her spare time, Katie can be found searching for spring wildflowers, on the water in her kayak, working on building her yurt home with her husband, or traveling in her beloved Volkswagen van.
Eliza Volk has been an environmental educator for many years. She grew up on a small farm in upstate New York and has always been very connected with animals and nature. Camping trips in the heart of the wilderness were part of her upbringing. As a Psychology and Environmental Studies graduate from University of Vermont, Eliza has a strong passion to teach youth and to connect them with nature. She has been working with kids for over ten years including being an educator for Audubon, a Montessori school and a farm-based camp. Getting outside, traveling, yoga, and connecting with others are Eliza’s favorite things to do. She is excited to be sharing her enthusiasm with Muddy Sneakers!
Rick Wedell was ten when he moved from suburban Connecticut to the Vermont countryside. It was there that he first discovered a love for the outdoors. After high school, he moved to Colorado to further purse his passion for skiing and outdoor experiences. The more time he spent adventuring, the more he realized how much he was learning and how many learning opportunities there were in the natural world. After several years of playing in the woods, he decided to turn this passion into a career. Rick received his B.A. in Recreation and Outdoor Leadership from Western State College of Colorado before moving back east, where he now lives in Asheville with his family. He believes natural environments allow us to understand that we are each only a part of a vast ecosystem and in order to take care of ourselves we must also take care of it. Rick’s belief in the rejuvenating power of nature as quoted by John Muir:
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.
Matt grew up in Buncombe county, playing in the woods and exploring the mountains of WNC. Beginning at age 19, he worked at ArtSpace Charter school for 5 years, where he discovered a natural joy and talent for teaching. Matt has since worked in a variety of alternative education settings, including NorthWest Youth Corps where he spent 5 weeks at a time leading teens in America’s biggest wilderness areas. After his years in the western US, he spent two semesters leading international service learning trips for gap year students in Latin America and India. In 2012, Matt returned home to the Appalachian Mountains. Currently he leads wilderness trips for various organizations and truly loves being a teacher for Muddy Sneakers.
Taylor is a Kentucky native who has lived all over the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Albuquerque. Years spent on wilderness trips all over Canada as a child and teenager developed his strong affinity for the natural world and its plant and animal inhabitants. He chose wilderness as a setting for his work as an adventure-based instructor and therapist for several organizations (Outward Bound among them). More recently, he has been developing a land-based education and model permaculture farm for youth in West Asheville. Taylor is particularly interested in ecological design and encouraging adolescents to be change agents who will shape the future of productive environments (homes, schools, communities, etc.) that work within nature’s limits.
Sharon has had a passion for all things wild since growing up in western New York State. She spent the free time of her youth roaming the wild land around her home, usually with a camera around her neck, hoping to capture the things she saw. Years later, after earning a B.S in Education, she taught environmental education to children in Minnesota, Michigan, Rhode Island, Colorado and eastern New York. Sharon has also worked as a naturalist consultant in both NY and NC. Like Muddy Sneakers, she believes strongly in the value of getting children outside to learn about the plants and animals in their own backyards. In 2008 she spent 5 months thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and decided afterwards to move to beautiful western NC. Sharon spends her free time capturing beauty with her camera, hiking, camping, traveling and enjoying the daily wonders of the natural world. Her photography can be seen at her website (www.sharenaturemore.com) and at some of the local Asheville stores such as The Complete Naturalist and The North Carolina Arboretum.