Administrative and Operations Staff

Jory Macomber, Executive Director

Jory grew up in New England, and his love of the outdoors began on hiking trips in the White Mountain National Forest. At age 14, he planned and completed a traverse of the NH section of the Appalachian Trail with two other teenage friends. As a teacher at the Holderness School in New Hampshire, he led over a dozen OutBack trips which are eleven-day winter camp trips with high school students. Since moving to Utah in 2014, he has taken up canyoneering and backcountry skiing. Professionally, Jory has served as the Associate Head of School at Holderness School (where he helped grow the outdoor education program), as the Head of School at Burke Mountain Academy and as the Executive Director of the Kimball Art Center. Outdoor education breathes in his heart.

Dave Montgomery, Operations Manager

Dave grew up "in the woods" of New England, with a strong attachment to the outdoors – hiking & skiing mountains, canoeing rivers & lakes, and climbing cliffs & peaks.  He also had a predilection for environmental causes and activism.  After college, he moved out west to climb & ski the “big” mountains. Soon after, he began a career in environmental activism, working with Greenpeace across the US and Canada.  This eventually led to a few years of marine/ocean based work in such places as Antarctica, New Zealand, South America, and the Persian Gulf.  Upon returning back to the US he transitioned into field biology, living and working in the Grand Canyon and northern Arizona.  Then it was back to sea, working aboard an eco-tour ship sailing from Newfoundland, down the eastern seaboard, through the Panama Canal, along the west coast of South America, and ultimately back to Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica.  He eventually found his way to Moab in the early 90's - drawn by the canyons and desert - and set down some roots.  He's lived here ever since, with occasional sojourns in the form of self-support long-distance bike touring in New Zealand, Baja, and along the Great Divide.  He’s worked in the bicycle industry, with tour companies, in music & stage management, and graphic design.   He's also been self-employed as a luthier and woodworker.  His background and experience in logistics and operations management brought him to CFI in 2013, where he looks forward to helping people learn about, and connect with, the beauty and wild nature of the Colorado Plateau.

Michele Johnson, Contracts and Reservations Officer

A West-side Detroit Street that ended with a cul de sac and a 30 acre park provided endless exploration for Michele while growing up, and led to abundant questions, thoughts, and theories about flora and fauna. Spending her summers in Battle Creek Michigan with a gardening and fishing grandmother, taking Sunday family drives across the border to Windsor, Canada to adventure in the outdoors, endless hours captivated by the Diego Rivera series of frescoes at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and camping trips just below the Upper Peninsula all led to Michele’s passion in scientific discovery and public health advocacy. From Detroit to Ann Arbor to Honolulu to Salt Lake City to the ultimate journey to Moab, Michele has experienced a diverse landscape of people, flora, fauna, and Joy. Prior to settling here in Moab, she was Director and Biosafety Specialist at the University of Utah in occupational and environmental health and safety as well as emergency management. Her professional career began as a specialist at the University of Hawaii in laboratory and agricultural health and safety. Michele received her BS in Botany from the University of Michigan and Masters in Public Health from the University of Hawaii. Always an advocate for making a difference in the lives of our planet’s youth, she has followed the philosophy of “Each one Reach one” and spent many years mentoring the young people in her life. CFI's mission to guide youth and adults to an emotional connection to the landscape and self in wild places fulfills Michele's purpose for being and becoming in Moab.

Alexander de Moor, Education Director

A native of South Africa, Alex has traveled extensively before finding himself on the Colorado Plateau. He holds a Master’s degree in Geology and Geophysics and has worked as a professional geologist throughout Alaska and Canada. While trying to combine his passions of boating, teaching, and geology, Alex found CFI and the desert Southwest. He can now be seen animatedly talking about rocks on the river, on his bike, or with a fly rod in his hand to any and all that will listen.

Brennan Patrick Gillis, Marketing and Communications Director

Brennan Patrick Gillis has always felt drawn toward the outdoors. After studying creative writing and geosciences at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, he followed the call to work for the Appalachian Mountain Club in Maine's 100 mile wilderness. He has taught for the YMCA, and for Slide Ranch, an educational farm north of San Francisco. Brennan has been guiding on the Colorado Plateau since 2018. These days, Brennan enjoys getting lost in canyons, looking at stars, and shaking desert sand out of his sleeping bag.

Karla VanderZanden,  Founding Director

Karla grew up on a small farm in western Oregon as an only child of older parents. The nearby woods that fringed the fields her family leased for their wheat became her haven. She began outdoor education as a high school assistant in Washington and Multnomah Counties Outdoor Schools for 6th graders (Portland area). Later, she fell in love with river-rafting in college at U of Oregon where she earned a B.S. in Recreation/Outdoor Education and an Elementary Education teaching certificate. She learned she could use the river as a classroom for nature studies and to promote active civic engagement. At 27 years old she was a member of a nine-person team that completed one of the first river running descents of Karnali River in western Nepal on a 55-day expedition, aka "American Himalayan Whitewater Expedition of 1981.” They had no film crew, no radios, and of course no cell phones. Karla also worked as a naturalist at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies for 3 years where she created elementary level curriculum and teacher training program, taught adult courses, community education in Winter Ecology, and led snowshoe walks for the public. In 1986, she earned a master's degree in Natural Resources from Utah State University. She had moved to Moab in 1980 to work for BLM as River Ranger on the Green River, and later, three years on Westwater. She started CFI in 1984 with co-founder Robin Wilson, who died of cancer 1991.

Alison Anders,  AmeriCorps VISTA Member, Development

Alison fell in love with the outdoors growing up in Bellingham Washington. In the Northwest she enjoyed hiking, skiing, and mountain biking. She quickly realized how incredible Moab is when she moved here in spring 2020 to be a CFI apprentice, and when that was canceled due to Covid chose to stick around through lockdown. During the lockdown she worked remotely as a customer service agent for Mattress Firm, until she was able to help out with CFI's summer camp. "Providing a space for children to play and be curious during these tough times was one of the most rewarding jobs I've had." Alison is an artist and an environmental activist, and she focuses her photography on reflecting the beauty of the natural world.

Cassidy McGrain,  AmeriCorps VISTA Member, Marketing

Cassidy grew up playing in the outdoors of the Virginia Blue Ridge mountains and came to recognize the value of outdoor experiences in nurturing an appreciation for our natural environments. After receiving degrees in Environmental Science and Global Studies: Sustainability and Environments from the University of Virginia, she moved to New York City and ended up on a marketing and advertising career path. In an effort to combine her passion for outdoor accessibility and environmental consciousness with her experience in digital marketing, she joined CFI as a Marketing Americorp VISTA. Cassidy enjoys exploring the spectacular Colorado Plateau in her free time and is inspired everyday by the incredible beauty of the region.

Naturalist Educators

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Kami Bakken

Kami grew up in the farmlands of Minnesota exploring an endless space of woods, rivers and lakes. Knowing she wanted to continue her exploration to the mountains, she moved to Colorado to study Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. From there she developed a love for everything under the sun that let her explore the outdoors in a more challenging way. She’s explored much of the West through rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, backpacking, backcountry skiing and fly fishing. It has led her to positions with Rocky Mountain National Park as a Bouldering Ranger, an Outdoor Instructor with CSU’s Outdoor Program, a Sea Kayak Guide at Channel Islands National Park, advocating for climate change policy with Protect Our Winters, and now to Kami’s second home in Moab with CFI. When she’s not exploring the outdoors with others, you can find her eating breakfast burritos, reading a good book, or taking naps in hammocks.

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Lena Connolly

Lena grew up in Burlington, Vermont, where she has spent much of her life exploring the idyllic landscapes of the Northeast. When she was in high school, she attended two semester schools (The Conserve School and the Woolman Semester School), where her love for environmental and experiential education first blossomed. After graduating from high school, she spent a summer working for Camp Woolman, leading backpacking trips through the Sierra Nevada. Lena spent her freshman year of college at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, where she studied human ecology. She then transferred to the University of Vermont to earn her BA in Environmental Studies and Studio Arts. During Lena's junior year of college, she spent a semester exploring the Colorado Plateau with the Wild Rockies Field Institute learning about the natural, cultural, and political history of this region. Through this experience, Lena became captivated by the Colorado Plateau and is very excited to bring her love and knowledge of this region to the CFI community. Lena has also been making art her whole life and believes it can be a powerful communicative tool for environmental topics. Last year, she wrote her senior thesis, which explored the emerging concept of the Anthropocene through art-based environmental communication. Since graduating in the spring of 2020, Lena spent six months working on a small farm in Boulder, Colorado and has since moved back to Vermont for the winter season. Lena is ecstatic to be working for CFI – a position that encapsulates many of her passions in life for exploring, outdoor trips, experiential education, and the Colorado Plateau.

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Anna Eick

Anna grew up along the Colorado Front Range. While studying Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University, she found her passion working with kids as an environmental educator. She has had adventures as a horse crew member, ice cream server, trail guide, llama hike leader, walking stick master, snow plow driver, state park ranger and - of course - as a CFI naturalist guide. Anna describes herself as an introvert but believes that this secret power gives her the ability to connect with kids who are more shy or less inclined to jump into the programs’ activities. She hopes to show participants that science and nature are accessible to anyone and not restricted to certain personalities or backgrounds. In her free time, Anna enjoys photography, reading, and woodburning.

Mollye Zahler Staff Photo

Mollye Zahler

Mollye grew up playing in the Redwoods of California's Central Coast. She moved to Seattle to study biology, and left with a deep appreciation for sunshine, plants, and K-12 educators and students. She has worked as a research scientist, data analyst, outdoor educator and conservation crew leader in Washington, Colorado, California, and Idaho, and is super grateful for the chance to live and work in South East Utah next. In her free time she relishes the opportunity to read science fiction, paint watercolors, run around in the forest, and breathe fresh air.

Apprentice Naturalist Educators

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Katey Butler

Katey grew up in the Cross Timbers of Eastern Oklahoma, where she spent most of her summers exploring the forest scenery and spending time on the lake canoeing, kayaking, and sailing. With such a profound love for the water and the outdoors she knew she wanted to continue this passion through school. She earned a degree in Natural Resource Ecology and Management with a Wildlife Ecology focus from Oklahoma State University. During this time, she was able to fully devote her free time and school life to getting outdoors and learning everything she could about the natural world. She also enjoys spending her time hiking and backpacking as well as rock climbing. She has worked as a laboratory technician studying the effects of agricultural chemicals on aquatic species and as the Aquatics Director for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma at their resident camp encouraging the outdoor enthusiasts of the future. Now her journey has led her to Moab working with CFI to continue to create outdoor experiences for future environmental leaders.

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Karson Leonard

Karson grew up in a remote corner of Pennsylvania where he spent his childhood exploring forests, fields, and streams on his family property. These early experiences inspired him to pursue a life where he spent his days outside, to find joy in encounters with new experiences; each day with a new and unique horizon. Karson enjoys sharing these experiences with others through rock climbing, backpacking, and photography and believes that actively immersing ourselves in nature can lead to deep personal growth. Through his research experience in forest, fire, and soil ecology, as well as his experience as a park guide in Canyonlands National Park, Karson has developed a deep love of natural ecosystems and the interconnected nature of all life. He is excited for this opportunity to help engage natural curiosity; to inspire a new generation of keen observers and stewards of our shared natural communities.

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Talitha McGuire

After falling in love with the Colorado River in high school thanks to a Grand Canyon river trip, Talitha was inspired to pursue a career in conservation biology. Since finishing her undergrad, she has predominately worked with endangered bird species such as the California Condor and Mariana Crow as a field biologist. She is wholeheartedly in love with the desert and is very grateful to be apprenticing with CFI to grow as an educator and get folks stoked about the magic of the Colorado Plateau.

Guest Naturalist Guides

Brandi Atene

Brandi Atene

Ya'at'eeh! I grew up in Navajo Mountain, Utah. I am Navajo of the Bitterwater clan born for Towering House clan. Herding sheep on the weekends and during break from school. The landscape in Navajo Mountain paved the way for my love for the outdoors; rock climbing, sleeping outside with cousins, hiking down to Lake Powell to cool off and try and catch some fish. All this without “proper” gear, just the clothes we wore and a water bottle with crackers.

I attended High School in Tuba City, AZ and college at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. I majored in Architecture, Planning and Design. I played basketball at both schools. A walk on at University. I also ran Cross Country in High School. I coach basketball at the Jr High and High School level. I also donate my time as an official at local youth basketball tournaments.

Aside from my athletic abilities, I love the outdoors. Hiking, camping, fishing, and also being on the river.

I grew up around all kinds of animals. Cats, dogs, chickens, sheep, horse, and cows. Grandparents kept me involved with the livestock. Started with Redwood Llamas in Spring of 2018 for a weeklong hike with Canyonlands Field Institute for their annual Rainbow Bridge Trek. Something about being cut off (electronically), from the rest of this modern world is soothing. Hearing the sounds of nature; animals, wind, casual chats with friends and family. My son always tells me, “Just us, outside, having fun, is the way it should be”, I agree.

Eric and Charlene Atene

Eric and Charlene Atene

Eric and Charlene, both Navajo, have been guest guiding on CFI trips for years. Eric has always been attracted to the outdoors, ever since he was a teenager. And he has been working for CFI for much of that time, doing river trips and wilderness trips with pack stock provided by Rainbow Bridge Outfitters, the company he and Charlene own. Charlene grew up in Mexican Hat, Utah and when she is not out in the wilderness  is a librarian at Monument Valley High School.

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Elizabeth Bercel

Originally from Arizona, Elizabeth found her appreciation for the outdoors through exploring Sonoran desert washes and marveling at summer monsoons. After studying Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, she has used her degree throughout the years to gain experience in Wilderness Therapy, Environmental Education, and Ecological Restoration. First working as a guide for CFI in 2016, she is excited to return to canyon country to continue sharing her love of wild places and connection with others.

Niki Haroldsen

Nicky Haroldsen

Nicky was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah where she lived until she moved to Flagstaff, Arizona to attend Northern Arizona University. After graduating with a degree in Parks and Recreation Management with an emphasis in Outdoor Leadership she moved to Moab, Utah. Following her passion for running rivers and sharing her love for the outdoors with others, she found a good match in Canyonlands Field Institute. Between trips and various other jobs around the country and around the world she often made her way back to the red rock deserts of her native Utah and eventually put down roots here. In addition to running rivers she enjoys hiking, biking, gardening, yoga, and spending time with her partner, hound dog, chickens, ducks, and bees.

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Samara Rosen

Samara first fell in love with rivers in California. Her early kayak days in the front of her mom's boat morphed into a full-fledged career as a river guide. Amidst the river guide community, she realized there was a special relationship between those who spend time with the river and those who fight to protect it. This realization turned into a year-long college thesis and life-long fascination. Her results led her here to Canyonlands Field Institute, where her secret mission is to facilitate experiences that inspire you fall in love with rivers too.

Evan Smiley

Evan Smiley

Evan grew up in a small town in Connecticut’s rural suburbia, catching frogs, riding bikes, and hiking surrounding state’s highpoints with his family. He went to the University of Connecticut, worked with the outdoors program as a trip leader, and graduated with an Environmental Science degree. After school, he and his buddies biked across America, coast to coast. Since then he’s worked on a trail crew in Colorado, as a bike mechanic in Connecticut, in a conservation corps in Idaho, and on a small farm in California. Having worked on and with the land, Evan is excited to start working with people to foster a deep appreciation for this wonderful area.