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Staff

Beth Stein, Executive Director

Beth (she/her) has worked with Nearby Nature since 1994, serving in a variety of capacities, from program director to executive director. Beth is a writer, educator, storyteller, and key developer and manager of much of the educational programming at Nearby Nature. She is our lead programmer for our School Nature Walks Program, a School Classroom Visits instructor, a Wonder Keepers teacher, a grant writer, our lead organizer for yearly special events, and our newsletter editor. She has also been know to dress up as Frannie the Frog! Beth has a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Environmental Studies from Williams College. When she’s not working at Nearby Nature, you’ll find Beth hiking, biking, canoeing, baking, or reading.

Grace Chollar-Webb, Garden and Programs Manager

Grace (she/her) joined the Nearby Nature team at the beginning of 2019 as our Education Coordinator and now serves as our Garden and Programs Manager. In addition to coordinating youth programs overall, she teaches a variety of them herself, including Summer Daycamps, No School Day Adventures, Green Start Play Days, and Nearby Nature School sessions. Starting in late 2020, she also took on the task of creating and caring for our Edible Schoolyard Garden. Since graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2012 with a degree in Environmental Education, Grace has taught classes on a small organic farm, led sea kayak tours in the Monterey Bay, and managed multiple nature based programs with Avery House Nature Center in Corvallis. She is excited to be part of the Nearby Nature community after spending many years getting to know the lush natural history of the Willamette Valley! Unless she’s cooking or baking, you can find Grace outside hiking with her dogs, gardening, swimming in the McKenzie River, making art, and learning more about ethnobotany!

Wil Orr, Park Host and Restoration Coordinator

Wil (he/him) joined our staff in the Spring of 2020, and brings to his work a diverse range of professional and personal skills and interests. He has experienced the woods as a wildland firefighter, restored natural areas as a landscape technician, facilitated recreational tree climbs with the City of Eugene’s Outdoor Program, developed a sense of sustainability through years as a recycler, and studied arboriculture while working in tree care. After earning a degree in Computer Network Operations and certificates in Network Security and Web Development, he most recently spent a few years as an IT specialist at a local software company. His fascination with the outdoors, a desire to keep and restore our natural areas, and a strong passion for sharing nature with people drew Wil to Nearby Nature. In his free time, he loves to introduce new climbers to his favorite trees, hike local trails, ride and maintain bicycles, and play music with friends.

Nichole Orr, Park Host

Nichole (she/her) joined our staff as resident Park Host alongside Wil Orr in the Spring of 2020. From December 2020 through the Spring of 2022 she also served as an Administrative Assistant and then our Office Manager. Nichole has more than 17 years of administrative experience working with private companies, local organizations, and public entities in one capacity or another. In addition to her admin work, Nichole has written and designed newsletters, managed teams, facilitated large meetings, and coordinated public/community involvement projects. She also led the sustainability efforts at three organizations and served on the GreenLane Sustainable Business Network Board (2014-2015). Nichole has a deep love for nature, people, and community, so she feels right at home at Nearby Nature! When she’s not working, Nichole is studying for a degree in Human Services and loves to spend time outdoors, especially with her husband, Wil. If she’s not outside or at the computer, you’ll likely find Nichole doodling or snuggling up with a good book. 

 

Part Time Staff/Summer Educators

Avalon Reynolds-Brice, Lead Wonder Keepers Instructor/Summer Daycamp Instructor

Avalon (she/her) has been involved with Nearby Nature since she moved to Eugene in 2016. She started out as a Summer Daycamps and Nature Walks volunteer, and is now our Lead Wonder Keepers Preschool Instructor during the school year and a Daycamps Instructor in the summer.  In her roles at Nearby Nature, Avalon loves combining her two favorite things, playing with little ones and being outside! Outside of her time with Nearby Nature, Avalon worked on Catalina Island teaching marine biology to elementary and middle schoolers for an outdoor education program. If Avalon isn’t at Nearby Nature, you can probably find her singing and dancing along the beach, near a river, or on a mountain! Avalon graduated from the University of Oregon in 2017 with a BS in Environmental Science with a minor in Biology.

Bear Scamman, Instructor

Bear (he/him) joined our staff in 2017 as an Assistant Park Host to help with the myriad of tasks that come along with caring for our Learnscape site and Alton Baker Park. Since that time, has also taught Summer Daycamps, No School Days, Nature Quests, Nature School, and a variety of other educational programs. He first joined our crew in 2016 as a Volunteer Nature Guide for our School Nature Walks Program. Bear originally hails from faraway Maine, where his family has lived for 11 generations! When he’s not busy at Nearby Nature, you might find Bear creating fun for kids at the Eugene Science Center, where he also works as an educator.

 

Bryce Cumpston, Program Assistant

Bryce (they/he) joined the Nearby Nature team as an intern through the UO’s Environmental Studies program in the summer of 2021, and joined the staff in 2022. Bryce serves as a Program Assistant for Wonder Keepers during the school year and for Daycamps in the summer. Bryce is a passionate hobbyist-ecologist, has worked as a private landscaper, and has spent lots of time volunteering and organizing with ecology and environmental justice clubs in Eugene as well as the Portland area, where they grew up. They are excited to pursue a future in nature and/or music education in the coming years. In their free time, Bryce enjoys playing the fiddle and other instruments, hiking, cooking, reading, and riding their bike.

Christa Nova, Instructor

Christa (they/she) joined Nearby Nature as a summer daycamps instructor in the summer of 2021. They take every opportunity they can to be an educator, and spend the school year working in a middle school classroom as a Math and Science Teaching Assistant. They’ve also run their own martial arts school for the last six years, building a program especially focused on inclusivity for LGBTQ+ students and students of color. Christa is new to Eugene, having moved here in 2020 from their hometown in Northern Utah. When not working with students, Christa spends their time playing Dungeons & Dragons, hiking, camping, and finding opportunities to listen to live music (when we’re not in a pandemic)!

Emily Farthing, Instructor

Emily (she/her) joined Nearby Nature as a summer daycamps instructor for biking camps in the summer of 2021. She is passionate about cycling and organized Eugene’s largest walking and biking event, Eugene Sunday Streets, from 2015-2018. For the past three years, she has been living and working in a Favela in Rio de Janeiro teaching English at an all-girls soccer school, managing a non-profit, and exploring the natural wonders of Brazil. Emily grew up in Eugene cycling and running on its many trail systems and is dedicated to various social justice issues including organizing free meals and housing justice. She has served as her neighborhood association chair and on the neighborhood association leadership council. Emily has a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies, and Public Policy, Planning and Management. In the fall of 2021, she will be starting a Master’s program in New York City.

Emma Brigham, Instructor

Emma (she/her)  joined our staff as a Daycamp Instructor in the Summer of 2022. But Emma is by new means new to camps! This will be her sixth year on site, where she has been helping out as a volunteer since she was a teenager. Emma is passionate about human rights and the environment, loves to teach kids about the world around us, and enjoys art of all kinds. Born in Ohio, she has lived in Eugene since she was 10 and loves spending time in nature and with her dog Olive. Emma will attend Western Washington University in the Fall of 2022 and is looking forward to spending her summer with Nearby Nature!

 

Erica Walla, Instructor

The first time Erica (she/they) participated in a Nearby Nature camp, she was one of the group’s ten-year-olds! In 2013, Erica came back as an adult to lead our Wheels to Water daycamp and has been with us ever since, working with everyone from tiny ones to teens. During her time away from Nearby Nature, Erica studied in Bolivia and Peru, fought wildfires from Colorado to Alaska, taught basic bike mechanics and other skills at Maple Elementary in Springfield, and chaperoned middle school bike rides for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Today, when not working for Nearby Nature or hanging out with her toddler, you might see her in a garden, playing soccer, pedicabbing, or biking to Portland. She has a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a minor in Biology from the University of Oregon. Erica will be forever grateful to Sharon Blick, one of Nearby Nature’s founders, and to those responsible for Eugene’s wildest parks and extensive bike system.

 

Jesse Hubbe, Instructor

Jesse (he/him) joined Nearby Nature’s staff in the summer of 2022 as our Spanish-English bilingual daycamps instructor. Jesse grew up in Eugene and participated in Churchill Hill School’s Rachel Carson Environmental Studies Program, where he became particularly interested in native plants. After high school, Jesse earned a general studies Arts and Associates Transfer Degree at Lane Community College, joined the LCC’s Men’s Basketball Coaching staff, and spent time working with Willamalane guiding field trips and camps at Dorris Ranch. Now, during the school year, you’ll find Jesse at Eugene’s River Road/El Camino del Rio Elementary School , where he works as a Kindergarten Educational Assistant. Jesse has participated in multiple local climate and social justice campaigns over the years, and is passionate about local ecology. He is honored to have the opportunity to encourage a positive connection between young people and nature nearby. In his spare time, Jesse loves playing basketball, cooking meals with friends, and gardening.

Karina Rogers, Program Assistant

Karina (she/her) served Nearby Nature as a Daycamps intern in the summers of 2018 and 2020. In 2021, she also served as a Program Assistant for Nature School. She is passionate about working with kids and is a student at the University of Oregon planning to graduate in 2021 with a BA in Educational Foundations and a minor in Ethnic Studies. She enjoys traveling, and has had the opportunity to study abroad in Ireland and volunteer in Nepal. In her free time, Karina enjoys hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding, and really anything that involves the outdoors. She hopes to be an elementary school teacher one day and spend her summers traveling and being outside as much as possible

Margery Price, Instructor

Margery (she/her) joined Nearby Nature as a Daycamps assistant in the summer of 2020. As of 2022, Margery is also an instructor for our Natural Neighbors After School program and No-School Day Adventures. She has a 2022 Bachelor’s degree in Geology from the University of Oregon and is now working on a Masters Degree in volcanology and graywater recycling. Outside of work, Margery enjoys backpacking, hiking, swimming, surfing, biking, playing soccer, and looking at rocks! Margery was born and raised in Lincoln City, on the beautiful Oregon Coast, and loves going home to visit her parents and pets.
 

Megan Kender, Instructor

Megan (she/her) joined Nearby Nature in the spring of 2022 and will be part of our daycamps crew this summer. During the school year, she works as an educational assistant at a local K-8th grade school. Megan grew up in Portland and went to Hampshire College in Massachusetts, but she has lived in Eugene since 2019. When she’s not at Nearby Nature, Megan likes to read, roller skate, knit socks, go on walks with her dog, take care of her plants, and help out in the community. When it’s hot, you’re likely to find her lounging outside in a river or lake!

Read Wagar, Program Assistant

Read (he/him) first joined our crew in the summer of 2010 as a high school volunteer. He enjoyed working with our kids so much that he continued to volunteer throughout high school, college, and beyond. In the summer of 2020, he officially joined our staff and was a critical member of our educational team as well as one of our key COVID health and safety assistants. When Read is not at Nearby Nature, he enjoys camping, hiking, swimming, cooking (baking especially), and game nights.

Sarah Clothier, Program Assistant — coming soon!

Tami Darden, Instructor

Tami (she/her) joined our crew as a summer daycamps instructor in 2015, having spent the school year teaching sustainability education in Eugene/Springfield elementary school classrooms. Tami has been an environmental educator for young and old alike and in many types of environments, from Hawaii to Alaska and many places in between. Getting people excited about nature is one of her favorite things to do — in her free time she loves to be out and about doing things like backpacking, kayaking, and hiking. Tami has a B.S. in Geology from Humboldt State University and has earned most of her M.S. degree in Forest Ecosystems and Society from Oregon State University.

Thomas Weaver, Instructor

Thomas (he/him) first joined Nearby Nature as a volunteer nature guide in the Fall of 2013. In the summer of 2014, he became a member of our summer teaching crew and has taught many camps as well as Nature Quests and No School Days ever since. He also acts in costume at the annual Haunted Hike! Originally a native of Virginia, Thomas enjoys hiking, camping, rock climbing, traveling, photography, volunteering, and doing theater in his spare time. He has a B.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon (which included an internship planting indigenous trees in Ecuador) with a minor in Geology.

Will Sommer, Instructor

Will (he/him) began his time with Nearby Nature in 2020 as a volunteer for our Nature School programs. He also served an intern for our Daycamps in 2021. As of 2022, Will is an instructor for our Natural Neighbors After School program, No-School Day Adventures, and Daycamps. He also serves as a Program Assistant for our Wonder Keepers Preschool. Will graduated from the University of Oregon in 2022 with a degree in Anthropology, a minor in Music, and a certificate in Leadership and Outdoor Pursuits. Originally from the Great Lakes region, Will has worked as an educator and guide for children, adolescents, and young adults throughout the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest for the past five years. Now at home in Eugene, Will is continuing to develop his passion for connecting youth with the outdoors and with one another. In his free time, Will likes to walk, run, bike, read, write, play music, and explore natural places.

 

Network Charter School Instructors

Wendy McKenzie

Wendy (she/her) has been a Network Charter School science teacher since 2003. She has worked with Nearby Nature since 1995 and served for many years as its Park Host, both in Alton Baker Park and at Armitage Park. In Wendy’s NCS classes, students develop a keen appreciation of the natural world as well as a clear understanding of the many threats that currently face it. Hands-on work in nature is a common project for students in her classes, who spend lots of time in NCS’s gardens as well as Nearby Nature’s Learnscape Outdoor Classroom. Wendy is also the original creator of Nearby Nature’s Kinder Critters!

Denise Velasco

Denise Velasco (she/her) started her career with Nearby Nature as a volunteer and has been at the Network Charter School since the fall of 2004. Her classes include math, health, National Parks, events planning, and independent living. Every year, Denise plans and leads all sorts of amazing field trips for groups of adventurous NCS students. When she’s not teaching at the Network Charter School, Denise is a mom to an awesome teenager, and enjoys hiking, reading, baking, and gardening.

 

Billy Hughes

Billy Hughes (he/him) has been an instructor with the Network Charter School since 2005. He loves to garden, hike, backpack, kayak, fish, ride his bike, wild craft, and relax in the great outdoors with his family. Nature is literally the “classroom” for all of Billy’s courses. Through his unique approach to PE, students enjoy fishing, playing ultimate frisbee, going on urban hikes, and gardening. Community service is also part of Billy’s recipe for a complete classroom experience, and his students often spend time helping out at Walama Restoration and at Food for Lane County gardens. He has a Permaculture Design Certification and a Permaculture Teachers Certification.

Matthew Palotti

Matthew (he/they) started his journey at Network Charter School in 2022. He teaches math, coding, and physical science. After earning his PhD in physics, Matthew spent seven years teaching physics and physical science at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis, Tennessee. He brings the same student-centered, equity-minded approach to education that he used in his college level classes to his work at Network Charter School. Matthew looks forward to incorporating the natural world into all of his classes. When not teaching, Matthew enjoys exploring the wonders of Oregon with his wife, twin daughters, and two dogs.