David Watkins was born and raised in suburban Detroit. His family would leave for their cottage in northern Michigan the day after school was out for the summer and return after Labor Day. David spent his summers exploring the woods, waters and beaches of Michigan, barefoot most of the summers. After graduation from the University of Michigan, he and some friends began the Friends of the Wilderness Club that for the next twenty years planned annual trips to wilderness areas in North America. David moved to Brevard in 1983 and began a manufacturing business producing industrial parts made of advanced materials. He, his wife Maureen and their three children have greatly enjoyed hiking the many pathways through the mountain forests of western North Carolina.
Cliff moved to the mountains of western North Carolina in the summer of 2000 to take over the position of Buncombe County Superintendent, which he held for nine years until retiring from the field of education after 38 years. During that time, he served as Superintendent for four school districts including Saluda, NC for 3 years, Georgetown, SC for 7 years and Union, NC for 7 years before coming to Buncombe. In his spare time he is an avid Harley Davidson motorcyclist and has been riding for 52 years. Currently Cliff is a primary officer with the Smoky Mountain Harley Club of Asheville and is a Road Captain with the Patriot Guard. Born and raised in Durham, NC, Cliff served in the Marine Corps during Vietnam, before entering the field of education. Cliff and his wife still reside in Buncombe County and when you can’t find him, it’s likely he’s in the woods, chipping away at his goal of section hiking the Appalachian Trail of which he has already completed 785 miles.
Kristen Aquino has nine years experience in philanthropy and resource development. Currently she leads the fundraising efforts for Mission Health’s Heart and Vascular Programs, and prior to Mission, she worked with The Nature Conservancy’s Mid-Atlantic Program based out of Charlottesville, VA. Originally from South Carolina, Kristen fell in love with western North Carolina when she moved to Boone to study sustainable development and community planning at Appalachian State University. Her husband is a woodworker, and they are building a micro-homestead in West Asheville. Kristen finds joy in exploring nature and is delighted by the opportunity to serve Muddy Sneakers.
Gloria retired to Brevard, NC after 35 years of working in education in Ohio including 14 years as an Elementary Principal. Her love of the outdoors and commitment to instilling the love of nature in young students were a perfect match for Muddy Sneakers. As a charter member of the Muddy Sneakers board, she continues to be involved in activities and seeks new ways to recruit interested supporters. Gloria is a past president of Friends of DuPont Forest (FODF) and the Transylvania Garden Club. She enjoys hiking, golfing and fishing.
The owner, founder and Executive Director of Green River Preserve (GRP) summer camp located on 3,000 acres in Cedar Mountain, NC. Born and raised in Greensboro, NC, he has spent most of his life living in the Carolinas and has an equal love and appreciation for the mountain and coastal regions of both NC and SC. Sandy’s family always had a strong connection with the Blue Ridge Mountains and particularly the community of Flat Rock, NC, where Sandy and wife Missy currently reside. Sandy decided to open GRP summer camp on his family’s land in Cedar Mountain, NC in 1988 and in 2006 protected the property forever in its natural state by placing it under conservation easement. An economics major from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Sandy also holds an MBA from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. In addition to being a husband and step-father to co-GRP Director Missy Schenck and her four children, Sandy is also the proud father of two daughters of his own, Laurinda and Catherine. When asked, Sandy would describe himself as a “conservationist and a non-traditional educator”. Inspired by Richard Louv’s Last Child In The Woods, and having seen for years through camp that experiential education is the best way to connect children with the natural world, Sandy began brainstorming the ideas that would eventually develop into the Muddy Sneakers program. A founding member of the Muddy Sneakers Board, Sandy continues to bring guiding insight to the development of the organization. In addition to a life committed to education and conservation, Sandy serves on a number of philanthropic boards, including Trout Unlimited and claims to be a “devoted practitioner of aquatic theology” (a.k.a. – fly fishing).
Townsend is the owner and director of Camp High Rocks for boys in Cedar Mountain, NC. Having grown up at the camp her parents built, she has always enjoyed promoting outdoor education for children and feels it is a vital part of their education. “By building this spirit of exploration, we prepare children to embrace the infinite unknowns they will explore throughout their lives.” Townsend’s passion for providing experiential education for over 25 years fits well with the mission of Muddy Sneakers. Townsend also serves on the board of Kids in Camp in Transylvania County, providing a summer camp experience for underprivileged children. She enjoys horseback riding, tennis and hiking.
Marshall’s interest in the natural environment began in his youth, hiking the trails and canoeing the rivers of western North Carolina as a camper at High Rocks in Brevard, NC. As a Foreign Service Officer, he was able to pursue his interests in natural history through numerous assignments in Africa and the Middle East. A resident of Transylvania County since 2002, he remains a committed conservationist, serving on the board of Muddy Sneakers and several other environmental organizations.
A native of Wisconsin, was fortunate to be raised by parents who put value on time spent out of doors and was taught to respect and revere the natural world at an early age. She attended the University of Wisconsin and later moved to Tampa, FL where she and her husband Bill made their home with children Jacquelyn and William. The family discovered the fields and forests of western North Carolina in the early 60’s, and soon after built a summer home in Cedar Mountain. Aleen has been a full time resident of NC for the last fifteen years. While actively serving on Boards in both the Hospital and Mental Health fields, her attention and volunteer efforts turned to environmental activism after reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. She subsequently helped lead the fight to save both the Green Swamp in FL and DuPont State Recreational Forest in NC from incompatible development. Aleen served as Vice President on the founding Board of Muddy Sneakers and currently serves on other environmental and philanthropic boards in both FL and NC including Friends of DuPont Forest. An adventure traveler she has rafted rivers and climbed mountains on six continents. Often living with indigenous people in tepees, igloos, yurts and gers, she sought and found the humanness that binds people of all cultures together. She firmly believes in Bradley Miller’s philosophy, that “Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.”
Gene Bell joined the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville as Director of Maintenance and Construction in 1994. He was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Housing Authority of the City of Asheville and Executive Director of Brevard Housing Authority in October 2005. Prior to joining the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville, Gene was Director of Technical Services for the Charlotte Housing Authority in Charlotte, North Carolina. From 1985 – 1991, he was a partner in B&T Remodeling, a family-owned company specializing in remodeling and construction. Gene was employed with IBM from 1966 – 1985 where he held various upper-management positions in manufacturing, personnel and marketing. He graduated with a degree in Business Management from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Gene is committed to his involvement in the community. He served on the Board of Directors for several organizations including the United Way, the YMI Cultural Center, the Drug Commission, the Weed and Seed Program, the Advisory Committee for Economic Development, and as the Chair of the Asheville City School Board until from 2006 to 2013. He has received numerous awards and recognitions such as the Asheville Citizen-Times “View from the Top”; the 2000 Governor’s Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service; the 2000 Community Service Award; Advancing Community Excellence in Police Service; WLOS Gift Heroes; and the 2001 Martin Luther King Award. Gene, his wife Sharon, and their family recently received “The Black Family Award” from Gamma Gamma Omega Chapter Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. His primary interest continues to be improving the quality of life for the residents of Asheville and Buncombe County and securing the future for our youth.
From a young age, Chase has been involved in conservation efforts. He currently serves on the board of directors for Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and advises many global organizations on innovative strategies to connect kids with nature. He graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011 and now lives in Asheville, NC with his wife, Clary.
In July 2014, Chase joined the Marketing team at Biltmore Estate. As a fifth generation family owner of Biltmore, he shares his family’s mission to preserve Biltmore as a privately owned, profitable, working estate. Chase has several years of professional experience with international organizations including The Walt Disney Company, Discovery Communications, and the Jane Goodall Institute.
Karen grew up in Spartanburg, SC where she developed a love of the outdoors while camping, fishing and hiking with family and friends. In 1976, Karen married Ted Ramsaur and was introduced to the beautiful area of Cedar Mountain, N.C., where Ted’s family had visited since the early 1920’s. Karen was enamored by the area’s incredible natural beauty and soon began spending all available weekends in the NC Mountains. Karen graduated from the University of South Carolina and later taught at the School for the Deaf & Blind in Cedar Springs, SC. She particularly enjoyed introducing her students to the tactile aspects of nature. In 1980, Karen began working at the Greenville County Museum of Art and directed the curriculum for the Art Museum School. Also that year, she and her husband founded their Greenville-based advertising/photography business, which they operated for 32 years. In 2009, Karen & Ted retired to Cedar Mountain and renovated his family’s old home place. Karen’s interests include hiking and gardening while she shares a passion for both land conservation and community service. She has served on numerous philanthropic boards in both North and South Carolina, including serving as a Trustee of Faith Memorial Chapel in Cedar Mountain and as Vice-President for Muddy Sneakers.
A life-long resident of Greenville, SC and a part-time resident of the Ceaser’s Head community near Cedar Mountain and Brevard, NC. A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, Ben was the President of Keys Printing in Greenville for 44 years, a multi-generation family business, before retiring in 2006. As a young boy, Ben spent many of his summers in the mountains around Ceaser’s Head and Cedar Mountain where he acquired a love and fascination for the beauty of the area. Years of hiking in the Southern Appalachians combined with a passion for photography, led to Ben becoming an accomplished nature photographer whose breathtaking work can be seen showcased throughout the region. His passion is for photographing wildflowers, waterfalls and mountain vistas.
The Rev. Dr. David C. Joyce took office as the 13th president of Brevard College in January 2012. Dr. Joyce has brought a strong sense of engagement and optimism to the presidency and has made great strides in setting Brevard College on a clear path to prosperity and sustainability. Dr. Joyce has more than 30 years of experience in private higher education. From 2003-2011, Dr. Joyce served as president of Ripon College in WI. From 1996-2003, Dr. Joyce served as president of Union College in KY. Prior to assuming his first presidency, Dr. Joyce served as the chief advancement officer at four institutions including Otterbein College in OH, the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, The Divinity School at Vanderbilt University and Pfeiffer University.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Pfeiffer University, a master of divinity in pastoral psychology from Yale’s Divinity School, a master of science in psychology from NC State University and a doctorate in human resource development from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Joyce is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. For fun, Dr. Joyce and his wife, Lynne, enjoy whitewater canoeing, fly fishing, and mountain biking.