Alison Anders, Development Associate
Coming to Moab for the first time to be an apprentice in 2020 Alison quickly realized it would be incredibly hard to leave. When the pandemic canceled the 2020 apprenticeship she stayed in Moab to lead summer camps and then began an Americorps service term, leading to her current position. Alison likes to spend their time exploring, cooking with friends, creating art, and instigating dance parties. A passionate outdoor educator and environmental steward, they find purpose in community built through the outdoors.
Nicole Croke, Operations Manager
Nicole grew up in a small town in Western Massachusetts where they spent their days exploring the woods, playing with bugs, and helping their parents in the gardens. After graduating from Smith College where they studied Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation, Nicole moved West to Wyoming and spent a period of time working as a rangeland ecologist. Captivated by the vast stretches of public lands and the novel ecosystems of the West, Nicole abandoned all plans of moving back to New England and eventually settled in Moab, Utah. After years spent doing logistics for boat-based restoration crews, Nicole developed a deep love for the riparian ecosystems of the Colorado Plateau. These days Nicole spends their free time rafting, gardening, backpacking, reading, and making art. Nicole believes that forming a meaningful connection with nature is vital for both the health of our planet and the health of the human spirit. They are excited for the opportunity to contribute to an organization that will help these connections grow.
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.
Michele Johnson, Business Manager
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.
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.
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.
Karla VanderZanden, Founding Director
Karla began outdoor education career as a high school assistant in the 1970's for the Oregon Outdoor Schools and at summer camps. Her love of river running began while in college at U of Oregon. She holds a B.S. degree in Recreation Management and an Elementary teaching certification. She learned she could combine "camp" and "river" as classrooms for nature studies and to promote active civic engagement. She went on to complete a masters degree at Utah State University after having moved to Utah in 1980 to worked as River Ranger. In 1981, she was a member of a nine-person team that completed a first descent of the Karnali River in western Nepal. Karla founded CFI in 1984 with Robin Wilson, serving as Program Director. Upon Robin’s death in 1991, Karla stepped up to lead the organization as Executive Director continuously until 2020. Awards have included “Alumnus of the Year” in 1996 for the USU College of Natural Resources and Utah Hiking Guide of the Year in 2005. She served as a Moab Rotarian for twenty three years and has served on boards of the Grand Water Agency and Utah Division of Wildlife Advisory Council. Currently, she works part time, coordinating adult seminars, mentoring CFI staff and grant writing for improvements at Professor Valley Field Camp.
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.
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 plants, K-12 education, and sunshine. Lately, she is on a quest to understand how rivers connect and sustain communities, and finds that working for CFI offers an opportunity to do that every day. Some of her passions include wandering around the desert, facilitating relationship building between people and the natural world, and convincing large groups of middle schoolers to make funny noises.
Returning Naturalist Educators
Sasha (she/her) grew up exploring the forests, mountains, and coast of North Carolina. She attended NC State University and graduated in May of 2021 with a B.S. in Zoology and minors in Applied Ecology and Environmental Education. In college, she developed an interest in fisheries ecology and worked as a research intern/technician for the NC State Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Idaho Power Company, and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Following graduation, Sasha spent a season working as a fisheries technician for the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit on a project studying Yellowstone cutthroat trout reproduction in Grand Teton National Park. She grew to love teaching through various tutoring and mentoring roles, and is particularly interested in integrating environmental justice, youth empowerment, and culturally-relevant environmental education within her work as an educator. When she isn’t squeezing fish or bugging out over cool macroinvertebrates, she can usually be found backpacking, fly fishing, or rock climbing. She is excited to learn more about the education side of freshwater conservation, and is looking forward to helping students gain a deeper appreciation for the many roles that streams and rivers play in our lives.
Heidi (she/they) grew up on a tiny farm in western Washington State. From chasing goats and chickens, to going camping and hiking with her family, to helping her dad in his beautiful garden, Heidi cultivated a love of all things outdoors at a young age. After eighteen rainy years in the PNW, she moved to northern Arizona for college and fell in love with the high desert. They found their passion for outdoor education while working as a naturalist guide in the Gore Mountain Range in western Colorado, and their passion for rivers after taking a San Juan River Ecology class, which included a multiday trip down the upper San Juan. Heidi first moved to Moab to work for CFI in March 2020, but the apprenticeship was sadly canceled by the pandemic. She returned to Moab in 2021 to work for a neighboring nonprofit, and is thrilled to finally be back at CFI this year! Heidi believes that finding one’s place in the natural world is empowering and joyful, and hopes to facilitate that kind of experience with CFI program participants.
Heidi likes to spend their free time gardening, making art, and foraging for weird new plants to eat. You might also see her around town talking about rare books or astronomy!
Eliza Van Wetter
Growing up in Colorado’s Front Range, Eliza has a deep appreciation for accessible public open spaces and was constantly reminded by her mom that seeing outdoor spaces busy with visitors should always be celebrated. Throughout her life, spending time outside has been essential to everything she does and has created a passion for helping other people feel comfortable and happy in the outdoors. While attending Whitman College, Eliza began recreating on rivers and fell in love with the joy that comes from a day spent on moving water. She left her first season with CFI with a love for quality outdoor education and a deeper connection to desert landscapes. Eliza’s favorite things include skiing, petting dogs, making chocolate chip pancakes outside and sleeping under the stars.
Alina grew up in Portland, Oregon spending her summers playing in the Columbia Gorge and winters skiing on Mt. Hood. While earning her bachelors degree in Environmental Science at The University of Redlands, she found a love of sharing her passion for the outdoors with others as a Trip Leader for her University’s Outdoor Programs. After graduation Alina’s passion for the environment took her to Tutka Bay, AK as a naturalist guide, Taos, NM as a ski instructor and then to Moab, UT where she fell in love with running rivers and providing quality outdoor education on the Colorado Plateau with CFI. In her free time Alina enjoys finding the perfect line to ski, spontaneous road trips to the beach and a good cup of coffee.
First Year Naturalist Educators
2023 FYNE Coming Soon!
Guest Naturalist Guides
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.
Colleen grew up wandering the washes, mesas, and sandstones in Shą́ą́ʼtóhí, a small community located on the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona. She is Kinyaa’áanii (Towering House) born for Lók’aa’ Dine’é (Reed People). Her maternal grandfather’s clan is Tó’aheedlíinii (Water Flows Together) and her paternal grandfather’s clan is Tł’izi’łání (Manygoats). Her curious mind and innate connection to the lands and waters led her to earning a Master’s Degree in Climate Science & Solutions from Northern Arizona University in 2012.Colleen is passionate about the protection and conservation of the diverse landscapes, cultures, and waters that she is surrounded by because it is part of who she is and where she comes from. Colleen has been guiding on the San Juan River for the last 12 years, and most recently started guiding on the Desolation/Gray Canyon section of the Green River in 2021.
Photo: Lauren Wood
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.
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.