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Who We Are

Meet the team

Our Staff

We are a team of farmers, lawyers, fundraisers, creative minds, and land conservation experts who live and breathe our mission. We hike, we fish, and we’re regulars at local farmers markets. Most of all, we care about the people of Tennessee and are passionate about conserving land that is important to our communities.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Liz Mclaurin

Liz McLaurin

President & CEO

Liz McLaurin is the President & CEO and visionary leader of The Land Trust for Tennessee. During her ten years of service, Liz has been steadfast in her work to further the organization’s standing as one most successful and respected land trusts in our nation.

Liz succeeded The Land Trust for Tennessee’s founding President and CEO, Jeanie Nelson. During her first year as President and CEO, The Land Trust for Tennessee protected over 18,000 acres and brought over $16 Million to the closing table for conservation. In 2015, Liz led a strategic planning process that charts the course for the organization through 2020. In 2018, she spearheaded the relocation of the organization’s Nashville office to the historic Glen Leven Farm, rooting the organization in a place that embodies both its vision and mission. This year, under her leadership, The Land Trust has undertaken a strategic conservation planning process that sets priorities for proactive conservation across the state.

Liz serves on the Williamson County Comprehensive Land Use Plan Advisory Committee, the Center for Nonprofit Management’s CEO Council, the Harlinsdale Committee of Friends of Franklin Parks, Tennessee State Parks’ Planning Committee, and the Board of Franklin’s Charge. Liz served on Metro Nashville’s Livable Nashville Committee, Nashville’s Plan to Play Steering Committee, and the Nashville Food Waste Initiative Committee. She is a graduate of Leadership Franklin, was a finalist in the Nashville Business Journal’s 2014 Women of Influence Awards, and has been named to Nashville Post’s In Charge List multiple times.

Liz has generational roots in Tennessee and was drawn here as a student by the sense of place that the Domain of The University of the South offered. She started her career in theatre, acting in both New York and in regional theatre. Before joining The Land Trust for Tennessee, Liz held positions at Vanderbilt University, Nashville Public Television, Nashville Public Radio, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, and Colgate University.

Liz lives with her husband and three sons on a farm in the Leiper’s Fork community of Williamson County. A vacation for the McLaurins involves camping, hiking, kayaking, fishing, visiting historic sites, and biking – with a little music on the side.

We work with extraordinary landowners from all walks of life who have share a common perspective: they see the life of the land beyond their own lives. We all consider it a privilege to help them achieve their generous visions for their land. It is so fulfilling to work with such a dedicated team to protect these places that make Tennessee distinctive.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Emily Parish

Emily B. Parish

Vice President of Conservation

Emily Parish is a veteran conservation leader – both in Tennessee and at the national level. Since joining the team in 2004, Emily has been instrumental in protecting more than 120,000 acres of land.

As Vice President of Conservation, Emily oversees the conservation and stewardship program, including the projects of nine staff in two offices. Emily joined The Trust as a Land Protection Assistant in 2004 and is the longest ranking member of the team.

Emily earned her Bachelor’s from the Sewanee: The University of the South and a Master’s in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. She won the 2012 Nashville Emerging Young Leaders Award for “Environment & Sustainability.” Emily was also a founding member of the Farmland Legacy Partnership, a 13-agency working group focused on the protection of Tennessee farmland. She represents The Land Trust on the USDA Technical Committee, The Tennessee Preservation Trust’s Board of Directors, and the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association’s Board of Directors. In 2016-17, Emily served as a member of the Land Trust Alliance Standards and Practices Advisory Team and now serves on the Alliance’s Conservation Defense Advisory Council and is Chair of the Board of Children’s House of Nashville.

Emily is also a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) graduate who’s hiked three 15,000-foot mountains. In her spare time, Emily can be found lifting weights, or outside enjoying time with her husband and two daughters.

I am inspired by the amazing people that I get to work with every day, who choose to protect their land for future generations of Tennesseans to enjoy.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Rachael Bergmann

Rachael Bergmann

Conservation Project Manager, Southeast Tennessee

Rachael Bergmann is a passionate Conservation Project Manager working to conserve important places in Southeast Tennessee and the South Cumberland region. Rachael works directly with landowners on conservation easements, assists with land acquisitions, and coordinates our engagement efforts with local communities.

Rachael earned a Bachelors from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia with degrees in Environmental Studies and Psychology, and Master’s in Environmental Science and Public Affairs from Indiana University. She has broad experience in the environmental field, working on research and with non-profit organizations on issues including land conservation, urban forestry, food justice, and sustainability.

Rachael grew up in South Carolina, where she developed an early passion for the outdoors during weekends at her family’s home on Edisto Island. Her upbringing, and her 12 years of summer camp in Western North Carolina as a camper, expeditioner, and counselor inspired her to pursue conservation as a career, a decision that has provided opportunities to explore and protect diverse natural areas.

Outside of work, Rachael and her husband spend time enjoying Chattanooga. You can usually find them walking or biking along the Tennessee River, hiking the trails around Chattanooga, gardening or exploring new restaurants and open spaces around town.

I love visiting communities across Southeast Tennessee and learning from landowners and community members what land means to them. Our work helps current and future generations continue to tell these stories, shaping new appreciation and passion for the outdoors and natural places.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown

Director of Communications

Daniel Brown tells the stories of The Land Trust for Tennessee and the many landowners and partners working to conserve land across the state. Daniel is as the organization’s main point of contact for media relations and public communications.

Daniel was driven from a young age to lift up and support the people and places in his community through the power of storytelling. After earning his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Indiana University, Daniel worked to promote “Zero Waste”, recycling, composting and environmental initiatives at the City of Austin, Texas. Daniel was drawn to Nashville for its proximity to family, natural beauty and strong sense of community. Before joining The Land Trust, he told the stories of Nashville’s unsung volunteers serving their communities during his time at Hands On Nashville.

In his spare time, Daniel can be found exploring Tennessee’s beautiful trails, strumming along to folk records, or walking his dog around the Cornelia Fort Airpark in East Nashville.

Every inch of our land has a story, and I have the good fortune to tell them. There are countless individuals and organizations working every day to conserve important places, and I am inspired to be part of an organization protecting land with great passion for the greater good.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Virginia Comer

Virginia Comer

Special Events Manager

Virginia Comer develops meaningful events that express the passion and skills we have for protecting land important to Tennessee. As Special Events Manager, Virginia works collaboratively with vendors, Land Trust team members and volunteers to create meaningful experiences that give pride of ownership to both attendees and volunteers.

Originally from New Orleans, Virginia grew up in a small town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast surrounded by beautiful shorelines and river systems, as well as all of the recreation opportunities the Gulf of Mexico has to offer. In 2015, Virginia graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology after spending time working in development departments at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art. She moved to Nashville in 2015 to join Cheekwood Estate & Gardens as a Development Manager of Annual Giving, where she oversaw internal donor cultivation and appreciation events, as well as the institution’s corporate giving and sponsorship program.

In her free time, Virginia enjoys cooking, hiking on nearby trails, exploring Nashville’s historic places, or spending time with friends.

I learned at a young age that what is here today is not guaranteed to be here to be here tomorrow. I am thrilled to work with such a thoughtful organization to help conserve these beautiful landscapes, so that they continue to exist for present and future generations.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Emma Davidson

Emma Davidson

Director of Transactions & General Counsel

Emma Davidson provides her legal expertise and passion for conservation to strengthen The Land Trust for Tennessee’s mission. Emma oversees land transactions, serves as project management for our conservation team, facilitates the legal needs of the organization, and serves as our General Counsel.

Emma grew up in New York City and graduated from Duke University, where she majored in psychology and minored in biology. Emma spent six years exploring the beautiful mountains and landscapes of Colorado where she earned her law degree. Eventually, Emma and her husband were drawn to Nashville in 2014 by the exceptional food, waters, and southern hospitality Tennessee has to offer. Emma joined our team as a volunteer in 2015 but quickly realized she had found a perfect fit at The Land Trust and formally joined the team within a few months.

Outside of work, Emma can be found walking the Warner Parks trails with her sons and dogs, or enjoying a delicious meal at one of Nashville’s many renowned restaurants.

I love the variety of challenges my job offers – everything from negotiating a contract term to brainstorming conservation strategies for a unique property – but it is the people I get to work with each day that makes my work particularly special.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Jack Duffus

Jack Duffus

Glen Leven Farm Steward

Jack Duffus manages The Land Trust for Tennessee’s beautiful, 64-acre historic Glen Leven Farm located just four miles from downtown Nashville.

As Glen Leven Farm Steward, Jack takes cares of the many dynamic aspects of the farm, including our education garden, arboretum, honey bee sanctuary, springs and creeks, and livestock pastures. Jack also helps coordinate the public programming we offer on the property, including field trips for local students, tree plantings, guided hikes, and numerous volunteer service activities.

Jack grew up enjoying the great outdoors and first came to Tennessee to attend Sewanee: The University of the South, where he received his degree in biology with a focus on conservation and land management. Following multiple years serving as Assistant Park Manager at Lake Johnson Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, Jack and his family relocated to Nashville where they are happy to once again call Tennessee home.

Jack enjoys most any activity that will get him outside, especially in the mountains. He is an avid hiker, paddler, and loves to travel throughout the country and abroad.

I am inspired to be a part of an organization that values land conservation as much as I do. Places like Glen Leven Farm are truly special and I am proud to help protect it and similar properties for future generations to experience.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Harper

Harper

Office Pup

Harper is The Land Trust for Tennessee’s loyal and trusted companion and our resident conservation canine.

Born in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Harper loves the outdoors. In her leisure time, she can be found swimming in Tennessee rivers, scampering through open fields and pastures, and playing with her companions in Tennessee’s beautiful rolling landscapes.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Luke Iverson

Luke Iverson

Conservation GIS Manager

Luke Iverson is the Conservation GIS Manager for The Land Trust for Tennessee and is often referred to as our in-house “map guy”. Luke furthers our statewide conservation mission with his geospatial research, data analysis, and cartography expertise. Luke’s ability to create insightful, accurate maps enables us to better identify opportunities to protect valuable land facing critical threats

While born and raised in a small town outside of Chicago, Luke grew up working on his family’s cattle ranch in central Montana. His experiences in those vast, wild spaces gave him a love for nature, agriculture and open lands, with a desire to protect our natural, rural landscapes.

Luke’s love of music brought him to Nashville, where he graduated from Belmont University with a degree in philosophy. Luke joined The Land Trust for Tennessee in 2013 and has held many roles within the organization, ranging from fundraising to GIS specialist. Luke is based in our Chattanooga office, where he and his family enjoy exploring our beautiful state. You will often find them hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, or just plain exploring.

I love working for The Land Trust because I know the work I do helps to ensure that there will still be natural, untouched open spaces for future generations, as well as for this generation.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Stephanie Karns

Steph Karns

Community Engagement Manager

Stephanie Durno Karns is committed to engaging Tennesseans from all walks of life in land conservation.  As our Community Engagement Manager, Steph focuses her energy on building relationships that foster  awareness and participation in the critically important work of conserving Tennessee’s irreplaceable lands and sites, including education, volunteer opportunities, and community events.

Steph is the proud owner of a conserved property and she believes wholeheartedly in the mission of land conservation, particularly through conservation easements. Steph earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Colorado College and has worked in wildlife conservation in North and Central America and Africa. Prior to her time with The Land Trust, Steph spent nearly 20 years as a wildlife biologist in the Rocky Mountains.

Steph loves the food, landscapes, and people of her new home in Tennessee and enjoys cooking and eating good food, hiking, hunting, and camping.  When she’s not actively working to involve others in land conservation, Steph loves exploring Tennessee with her husband, preferably on horseback.

As an owner of conserved land, I appreciate all of the hard work that land trusts do across the country every day.  I love teaching people about the value of intact, functioning open lands and our fundamental connection to our natural world.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Brooks Lamb

Brooks Lamb

Conservation Project Manager, Rural Lands

Brooks Lamb is driven to protect Tennessee’s rural landscapes and the important economic and social benefits they provide. Brooks works directly with landowners, civic groups, and state and local officials to protect farms, fields, and forests across the state

Raised on a small farm outside of Chapel Hill, Tennessee, Brooks cultivated an early interest in land protection, and his passion grew in college. Majoring in history and double minoring in political science and environmental studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Brooks explored the environment from inside the classroom. He also nurtured his commitment to land and nature through direct service. For ten hours each week, Brooks worked with Overton Park Conservancy to help protect and improve Memphis’s historic Overton Park. While with the Conservancy, he planted trees, developed new membership materials, and wrote a book, titled “Overton Park: A People’s History,” that details the park’s history through personal perspectives.

After graduating from Rhodes in May 2017, Brooks interned for the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C., as a recipient of the prestigious Truman Scholarship. During his summer at ELI, he worked extensively on floodplain acquisition projects and on efforts to better connect the agricultural and environmental communities.

In his free time, Brooks enjoys reading books and poems by Wendell Berry, working on his family’s farm, and listening to country and bluegrass music.

Tennessee’s natural spaces have shaped me as a person, and I know that the same can be said for many others. For me, the land is more than just a resource—it’s also a part of our communities. Nature is a neighbor, and I think we should treat it as such. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with a friendly and hard-working team that is dedicated to conserving Tennessee’s land.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Kayla McBride

Kayla McBride

Operations Manager

Kayla McBride embodies the true team spirit of The Land Trust for Tennessee – dedicated, passionate, and ready and willing to always go the extra mile to support our cause. Kayla serves as Operations Manager and oversees a wide range of tasks to ensure The Land Trust operates as efficiently as possible.

Growing up, Kayla fell in love with the beauty and adventure of the outdoors while exploring then rural Smyrna, TN with neighborhood friends and family, and attending camp every summer at Horton Haven Christian Camp in Chapel Hill. Kayla has long felt the importance of sharing nature and knowledge with future generations, and went on to serve as Camp counselor and worked with at-risk youth at Rocketown in Nashville.

Kayla spends her spare time updating the home she inherited from her Grandmother, gardening and crafting, and seeking out historical and scenic landmarks with family and friends.

I love having a direct hand in the conservation of the land I have grown to cherish so much. I fully believe that what we are doing here is directly impacting the lives of the present and future generations for the better, and that makes what we do extremely important.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Alysia Mercer

Alysia Mercer

Senior Director of Finance & Operations

Alysia Mercer brings over 30 years of hands-on accounting experience to her role as Senior Director of Finance & Operations. Alysia oversees our organization’s finances, human resources, office operations and systems in partnership with our senior management and Board of Directors.

Prior to joining The Land Trust team in 2015, Alysia held senior finance positions at Boult, Cummings, Conner & Berry Law, Nashville Trane (division of American Standard, Inc.), Vanderbilt University, and Navihealth.

After being raised in Texas for most of her childhood, Alysia moved to Tennessee and has called this beautiful state home ever since. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her two children and loving pets. You will often find Alysia exploring the outdoors, gardening, relaxing by her pond with a book, or planning her next outdoor project. Alysia is also a self-published children’s author and illustrator and is hard at work on her second book.

I feel so fortunate to be part of a team of such dedicated people who love the outdoors as much as I do.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Mija Nichols

Mija Nichols

Conservation & Stewardship Coordinator

Mija [My-Juh] Nichols is dedicated to service and sustainability and keeps our team accountable to our long-term land conservation commitments. Mija is responsible for administrative and technical support of our conservation and stewardship programs and works in partnership with landowners and our conservation team.

Mija grew up in Arkansas, the Natural State, surrounded by the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, but has also spent time in her early childhood years in Colorado, Missouri, and Illinois. Each place inspired her connection to the great outdoors. Mija graduated from North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2013 with a degree in Environmental Technology and Management and Lipscomb University in 2016 with a Master’s degree in Sustainability with a focus on fostering sustainable behaviors. After graduating from NCSU, she went on to serve for a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA before joining the Andrew Jackson Foundation in 2015.

When not working, Mija can be found enjoying a favorite Science Fiction novel, heading to a music festival, enjoying some of the delicious food found across Nashville, or simply exploring this beautiful state.

I am excited to have the opportunity to bring my academic and professional skills to help The Land Trust for Tennessee further the education, conservation, and stewardship of our Tennessee lands and people.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Brickey Nuchols

Brickey Nuchols

Donor Engagement Coordinator & Resident Historian

Brickey Nuchols is a dedicated student of history and key member of our Development and Engagement Team. Brickey ensures our generous donors remain connected to our mission, writes grants to further our work, and leads tours at The Land Trust for Tennessee’s Glen Leven Farm.

Brickey was born and raised in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Maryville. He holds a B.A. in History from Maryville College and an M.A. in Public History from Appalachian State University. His past nonprofit experiences include tenures with the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, Community Food Advocates, and Alignment Nashville.

In his free time, Brickey enjoys spending time outdoors in Nashville’s parks and greenways, conducting genealogical research, exploring Middle Tennessee’s historic sites, and searching Nashville’s record stores to expand his vinyl collection.

I grew up in a “holler” in East Tennessee where my family settled nearly 200 years ago. I feel connected to this state and am passionate about its history. I am honored to be part of an organization that works to protect and conserve the hills, mountains, farms, and historic places that make Tennessee home to me.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Sarah Orear

Sarah O’Rear

Director of Stewardship

Sarah O’Rear ensures we are actively upholding our 300+ conservation easements across the state. As Director of Stewardship, Sarah guides all of our stewardship activities, including annual monitoring of conserved land, reviewing and approving activity requests, and communicating with landowners about their conservation easements.

Sarah graduated from Sewanee: The University of the South with a B.S. in natural resources. She previously worked for the Kentucky Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, where she supported a wide range of projects, including drafting and monitoring conservation easements. Her education and experience have taken her from Belize to North Carolina.

Sarah spends her free time living it up with her husband and daughter in the outdoors-loving town of Chattanooga. Sarah is a hands-on mom who loves hiking, going to Lookouts games and concerts, and finding the best Mexican cuisine anywhere she goes. She has a travel bug that keeps her searching for the next great adventure.

 I feel fortunate that I get to see so many parts of my home state that I would normally never have the opportunity or excuse to see otherwise. But the best part is the amazing stories and experiences we hear from our landowners, it makes you realize how important your work is and how land shapes people’s lives.

Emily Quinlan

Conservation Project Manager, Middle Tennessee

Emily Quinlan is a steadfast believer in community engagement and thoughtful land conservation. As Conservation Project Manager, Emily works with landowners and partners to conserve urban, suburban, and rural lands across Middle Tennessee, with a focus in Davidson and Williamson Counties.

Emily has lived in numerous beautiful places in the eastern part of the U.S., but credits her early love for the land to living in central Vermont as a child, in a county through which the Appalachian Trail winds. Emily moved to Tennessee shortly after graduating from law school, drawn to the area by its beautiful open space. Emily earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Georgia and a Juris Doctor from the Catholic University of America and is enjoying the transition from the practice of law to project management.

In her spare time, Emily is active outdoors—hiking, biking, running, camping—and visits a Metro or State park at least once per week. Her goal is to visit each of the National Parks in her lifetime. She also loves to read and to create.

I love that I can approach my work from a perspective of land conservation as well as community improvement: how can we make our communities better, more enjoyable, healthier, for all of us now, and all Tennesseans forever?

Land Trust For Tennessee - Mike Szmkowicz

Mike Szymkowicz

Stewardship Manager

Mike Szymkowicz is committed to being a good steward of land. As Stewardship Manager, Mike coordinates our dedicated team of monitoring volunteers and is often out in the field meeting directly with landowners of conserved land.

Mike developed a love for the outdoors and open spaces while growing up in Upstate New York. When he wasn’t traveling to compete in sporting events, he was fishing the rivers with his father or exploring his family’s property with friends.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from The State University of New York at Potsdam in 2014, Mike relocated to Nashville where he became involved with The Land Trust as a passionate stewardship volunteer. Today, as a full-time member of our team, Mike serves as a great steward for the beautiful Tennessee landscapes he now calls home.

When he is not exploring Tennessee’s green spaces with his fiancé and their two dogs, Mike can be found enjoying live music, trying new places to eat, or in the gym.

Looking out over a protected property with the landowner is the best part of my job. There is mutual sense of comfort knowing the land we are looking at in that very moment will look similar in 5, 50, and 500 years.

Land Trust for Tennessee - Sharayah Winkler

Sharayah Winkler

Director of Donor Engagement & Board Liaison

Sharayah Winkler is an experienced development professional with a passion for conservation. As Director of Donor Engagement, Sharayah keeps donors engaged in our work and plays an integral role in growing our relationships with grantors, board members, and other partners.

Sharayah is committed to growing The Land Trust’s family of friends, supporters, and advocates and is always eager to help get others involved in the many aspects of our work.

Sharayah has a Bachelor of Commerce from Deakin University in Victoria, Australia. She went on to work for global fashion retailer Cotton On Group, having spent most of her time managing their internal audit program. Being raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, Sharayah’s deep appreciation and care for nature grew even more during her time in Australia.

In her spare time, Sharayah is an avid sports fan, coffee enthusiast, and serves in her local church. She enjoys traveling and experiencing new cultures, nature, and history.

What we do at The Land Trust today is forever – conserving land today will make a positive impact for the people of Tennessee and its visitors for years to come. To partner with those who have a passion for protecting what makes our home unique – hearing their stories and helping them fulfill their own goals in giving back – is both exciting and humbling.