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Our Staff

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.

Jake Blessing

Conservation Project Manager

Jake serves as a Conservation Project Manager for The Land Trust for Tennessee. In his role, he works directly with Tennesseans to achieve their vision for conservation on their land.

Jake grew up in Southeast Michigan, where as a kid he grew a wildlife garden in his backyard. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Williams College and a Master’s in Ecology from Cornell University.  Before coming to Tennessee, he worked for land trusts in Michigan and Montana, developing a passion for the conservation of working and recreational private lands.

Outside of work, Jake enjoys exploring rivers with a fishing rod, trying new things in his garden, and hiking in new and familiar places. He and his wife take any chance they can get to play outside with their two boys.

“I am honored to collaborate with landowners to protect some of Tennessee’s most beautiful and productive open spaces for future generations.”

Ellen Brownell

Director of Strategy & Donor Impact

Ellen Brownell builds relationships to raise the profile of The Land Trust and ensure its longevity. As Director of Strategy & Donor Impact, she articulates the need for land conservation and the impact that The Land Trust’s partners continue to make. She develops strategies to secure resources for the conservation opportunity regions identified by The Land Trust and for the long-term financial sustainability necessary to continue its mission.

Having visited every state in the lower 48 and lived in several of them, Ellen appreciates the unique natural beauty and diverse landscapes of Tennessee. Prior to joining The Land Trust, Ellen worked with nonprofits for over 20 years to manage their assets in perpetuity. She has held senior roles on the investment teams at Dartmouth College, the University of Delaware, and most recently, the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. She has additional experience in environmental law and fundraising consulting. Ellen has served on advisory committees for multiple nonprofits, including the Peninsula Open Space Trust in Palo Alto, CA. She graduated from Yale University with a BA in English.

Ellen loves spending her free time outdoors: with her family on their farm outside of Chattanooga, hiking the nearby trails, or sitting in an Adirondack chair reading a book.

I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than protecting Tennessee’s irreplaceable open spaces for generations to come.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Virginia Comer

Virginia Comer

Director of Development & Engagement

Virginia Comer develops meaningful partnerships and events that express the passion and skills we have for protecting land important to Tennessee. As Director of Development & Engagement, Virginia works collaboratively with supporters, vendors, and volunteers to create meaningful experiences that celebrate and garner support for The Land Trust.

Born in New Orleans and raised on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Virginia grew up surrounded by beautiful shorelines and river systems, as well as all of the recreational opportunities the Gulf of Mexico has to offer. She graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology after spending time working in development departments of the New Orleans Museum of Art, Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, and Auburn University. Prior to joining The Land Trust, Virginia served as a Development Coordinator and later Development Manager of Annual Giving at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, where she oversaw the institution’s corporate giving and sponsorship program, as well as internal donor cultivation and appreciation events.

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

I learned at a young age that what is here today is not guaranteed 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 make my work particularly special.

Mary Grace Donaldson

Donor Engagement Coordinator

Mary Grace Donaldson fosters relationships built on a shared interest in protecting Tennessee’s unique character. As Donor Engagement Coordinator, Mary Grace manages donor data and serves as the staff liaison to The Land Trust’s Board of Directors.

Mary Grace grew up surrounded by Nashville’s rolling hills. While earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Covenant College and enjoying the scenic vistas of Lookout Mountain, Mary Grace developed an interest in stewarding our natural environment.

Previously, she provided policy and communications support to local elected officials through the UT Institute for Public Service. She has also worked with the United States Census Bureau and the Williamson County Election Commission. Mary Grace’s background in public service informs her sense of community across Tennessee and motivates her to care for the state through its natural resources.

Outside of work, Mary Grace can be found hammocking with a book, frequenting local bakeries, and reminding her family how to compost.

“The work of The Land Trust for Tennessee is both inspiring and grounding. I’m thankful to be a part of caring for Tennessee in the long-term through this organization.”

Gaston Farmer

Conservation Project Manager

Gaston Farmer serves The Land Trust as a Conservation Project Manager. Based in Chattanooga, Gaston works one-on-one with landowners and like-minded organizations to conserve Tennessee’s natural character. On a personal level, he believes in the unique power of connecting people to the open spaces and he brings a true passion to his role.

Born in the Chattanooga, Gaston has deep roots in the region: his ancestor served as mayor of the city back in 1880. After venturing to Georgia, Gaston returned to Chattanooga in 2010 to work for Rock Creek Outfitters managing several of their store locations. Over the past decade, Gaston has built strong ties to the community, especially within the outdoor industry. Prior to joining The Land Trust, he worked for Outdoor Sports Marketing as their Field Service Representative and subsequently with the Lula Lake Land Trust.

Gaston currently serves on Advisory Boards for the City of Red Bank’s Parks and Recreation Department and TwoBikes Chattanooga. He is also the Advocacy Director for Chattanooga’s Southern Off Road Bicycle Association, where he has also held previous volunteer roles focused on stewardship, trails, membership, and marketing.

Outside of work, Gaston is likely on a bike or amongst the flora and fauna. During recent years, his adventures have taken him on two trans-continental bicycle tours, instilling an everlasting appreciation for the spaces he’s been fortunate to travel through. Back home, Gaston has served on the Board of Directors for the Chattanooga chapter of Bike Walk Tennessee. Currently, he is the Stewardship Director for Chattanooga’s Southern Off Road Bicycle Association. He has previously held the volunteer positions of Trails, Membership, and Marketing Director.

It is a privilege to work with those who share the common goal to protect and preserve the natural resources and open spaces that compose our great state of Tennessee. I can think of no better team to be a part of and to carry out these efforts than The Land Trust for Tennessee.

Amy Frankel

Marketing and Communications Manager

As the Marketing and Communications Manager at the Land Trust for Tennessee, Amy Frankel finds creative ways to convey to Tennesseans the mission of conserving culturally and historically significant land for generations to come.

Born and raised in the Chicago area, Amy earned her M.S. in Environmental Science and Sustainability from Loyola University Chicago. She also earned her B.S. in Agricultural Communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Amy first moved to Nashville and fell in love with Tennessee while working as an Environmental Studies Specialist at the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Outside of work, Amy enjoys live music, watercolor painting, walking at Shelby Bottoms and exploring Nashville’s restaurant and bar scenes.

Even though Tennessee is rapidly developing, the state as a whole still has so much wild open space that makes it so important to conserve. Being a part of the Land Trust’s mission to protect this land and being a part of a team that is so committed to a noble goal is incredibly humbling.

Anna Holman

Stewardship Coordinator

Anna Holman works closely with the Director of Stewardship to uphold over 400 conservation easements across the state. This includes annual monitoring of conserved land and communicating with landowners about their conservation easements.

As a native Tennessean, Anna is passionate about protecting this state’s beautiful landscapes. She graduated from UT Chattanooga with a degree in Environmental Science and a minor in biology. Prior to joining the Land Trust for TN Team, she worked at Long Hunter State Park, Appalachia CARES AmeriCorps, the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail, and Ivy Academy Environmental Charter School.

Anna spends her free time playing disc golf, canoeing with her husband and 12-year-old-dog, hiking, and camping.

“I am so humbled to be part of such an impactful organization, and I look forward to working with landowners and The Land Trust for Tennessee team to conserve Tennessee’s unique landscapes for future generations to come.”

Land Trust For Tennessee - Luke Iverson

Luke Iverson

Director of Conservation Impact

As the Director of Conservation Impact for The Land Trust for Tennessee, 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.

Sam Khomtchenko

Stewardship Field Coordinator

As part of the Stewardship team, Sam visits properties annually and works directly with landowners to ensure that conservation easements are upheld.

Growing up in Brentwood, TN allowed Sam to develop a love and appreciation for Tennessee’s natural beauty. He spent his younger years exploring different hiking trails and swimming holes. His passion for wildlife and conservation led him to Rhodes College, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. He also was a member of the men’s soccer team for 4 years. Sam worked as a Land Steward with the Wolf River Conservancy in Memphis, TN, where he began his career in land conservation. He served as an Americorps member in New Jersey, where he educated beachgoers about endangered shorebirds and helped monitor their populations.

Sam enjoys outdoor activities, spending time with friends, playing with his pup, and watching sports.

“I love working for the Land Trust for TN because I know my efforts directly help protect hundreds of thousands of acres of scenic, natural, and historically significant land.”

Lynn Lentz

Administrative Coordinator

Lynn Lentz serves The Land Trust for Tennessee team as the Administrative Coordinator. She is happy to be in a role that allows her to support the team in a variety of ways.

She was born in Western North Carolina, and while her family lived in other places, returning to visit family and “Grandaddy’s Mountain” has been a constant in her life.  Lynn is a graduate of the University School of Nashville and the University of Tennessee. Before coming to the Land Trust, she worked at Vanderbilt for many years coordinating educational programs. She and her husband, who is that rare Nashville native, live in Nashville. When not working, you are most likely to find her gardening, reading, and visiting children and grandchildren as often as possible.

“It is exciting and humbling to support the mission of the Land Trust for TN.  It feels like we’re saving the world one acre at a time for generations to come.”

Jackson Lundy

Jackson Lundy

Conservation Project Manager

Jackson Lundy works closely with landowners and partners to conserve important landscapes in Tennessee. Through his work, Jackson cultivates, engages and maintains relationships with private landowners to permanently conserve land.

Originally from Kingston Springs, Tennessee, Jackson grew up in Middle Tennessee and has developed an appreciation for the natural beauty of the area. Jackson earned his bachelor’s in environmental science from Sewanee: The University of the South. Jackson then spent two years working for TDOT where he facilitated land acquisitions for infrastructure projects in the Middle Tennessee area.

In his free time, Jackson can often be found exploring the many waterways of Tennessee by kayak. He enjoys hiking, fishing, running, and trying new restaurants. Jackson is also an avid sports fan.

“It’s inspiring to work with a group of committed staff and dedicated private landowners to protect the landscapes of our state for future generations to enjoy.”

Paul Malone

Director of Finance

Paul Malone works in partnership with The Land Trust Leadership Team and the Finance & Audit Committee to oversee the financial operations and financial planning of the organization.

Paul grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas, where he developed a deep appreciation for the outdoors through the beauty of tall grass prairies and open skies. He earned his Bachelor’s in Social Entrepreneurship and his Master’s in Accountancy from Belmont University. Paul is a licensed CPA and an active member of the AICPA and TSCPA. Before joining The Land Trust, he served in finance and development roles for Mending Hearts, The Brown Center for Autism, and the Tennessee office of the US Tennis Association. Most recently, Paul was a member of HCA Healthcare’s Internal Audit department where he performed financial and control audits of HCA hospitals across the US.

In his free time, Paul enjoys spending time cooking, tending his vegetable garden, hiking nearby trails, and reading sci-fi.

“I’m passionate about working with our team to ensure that we have the resources to fulfill our mission to protect uniquely special places throughout our state into perpetuity. I couldn’t think of a more powerful motivator than upholding the promise we’ve made to our partners, landowners, and fellow Tennesseans.”

Liz McLaurin

President & CEO

Liz McLaurin believes that land connects us to one another and reminds us that we are a part of the natural world. During her fourteen years of service to The Land Trust for Tennessee, Liz has been devoted to ensuring that the organization grows in its strength as one most effective, strategic, and respected land trusts in our nation.

Liz was drawn to Tennessee as a student by the sense of place offered by the Domain of Sewanee: The University of the South. She started her career in theatre, acting in both New York City and in regional theatre. Before joining The Land Trust for Tennessee, Liz held positions at universities, public television and public radio stations, and worked on political campaigns.

She is currently in Class IX of Leadership Tennessee, serves on the Land Trust Alliance National Leadership Council, the Williamson County Stormwater Appeals Board, and the Board of Franklin’s Charge.

Liz received the EQB Award from the Associated Alumni of The University of the South, is a graduate of Leadership Franklin, was a winner of Nashville Business Journal’s 2014 Women of Influence Awards and has been named to Nashville Post’s “In Charge” List for the last seven years. She has served on many nonprofit boards and advisory committees in communities she’s called home.

Liz lives with her husband, three sons, horses, and dogs on a farm in the Leiper’s Fork community of Williamson County.

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 - Kayla McBride

Kayla Noel

Director of Operations, HR, & Culture

Kayla Noel embodies the true team spirit of The Land Trust for Tennessee – dedicated, passionate, and always ready and willing to go the extra mile to support our mission. Kayla serves as Operations & Finance Manager, overseeing 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 what was then rural Smyrna, Tennessee, with neighborhood friends and attending summer camp at Horton Haven Christian Camp in Chapel Hill, Tennessee. Kayla has long felt the importance of sharing nature and knowledge with future generations, especially through her work at Horton Haven as a camp counselor and then working with at-risk youth at Rocketown in Nashville. She graduated from Lipscomb University with a degree in Family Relations and Management.

Kayla spends her spare time sharing a meal and playing games with her family and friends. She enjoys gardening and seeking out historical and scenic landmarks with her husband, RC, and their dog, Beverly.

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 - 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.

Land Trust For Tennessee - Emily Parish

Emily B. Parish

Vice President

Emily Parish oversees the conservation and stewardship efforts of the Land Trust for Tennessee, including the projects of nine staff in the Nashville and Chattanooga offices. Emily joined The Land Trust as a Land Protection Assistant in 2004. The longest tenured member of the team, she has been instrumental in protecting more than 120,000 acres of land.

Emily earned her undergraduate degree from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, 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 a founding member of the Farmland Legacy Partnership, a 13-agency working group focused on the protection of Tennessee farmland.

Over the years, Emily has represented The Land Trust on The Tennessee Preservation Trust’s Board of Directors, the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association’s Board of Directors, and the Land Trust Alliance Standards and Practices Advisory Team. She currently sits on the USDA-NRCS Technical Committee and serves the Alliance’s Conservation Defense Committee as an alumni member. She also serves as the Southeast representative on the Land Trust Alliance’s Terrafirma Members Committee. Emily is nationally recognized as an expert on conservation easements and regularly presents on topics relating to land conservation.

Emily is also a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) graduate who’s hiked three 15,000-foot mountains.  Outside of work, Emily serves on the Glendale Elementary PTO. On the weekends she can be found lifting weights or enjoying time outside 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.

Tessa Pendleton

Conservation Volunteer Program Leader (Americorps)

Tessa serves The Land Trust for Tennessee as an AmeriCorps member in a variety of ways, but focuses on enriching volunteer recruitment, experience, and retention.

 

Born and raised in the Indianapolis area, Tessa moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University. She will graduate in December with a B.A. in Spanish and a minor in journalism with honors. She served with AmeriCorps NCCC Summer of Service in 2023 and will serve The Land Trust for Tennessee through November through the Hands On Nashville AmeriCorps program.

 

In her free time, Tessa enjoys spending time with friends, walking around the city and its open spaces, and sitting down with a good book.

“The opportunity to invite more of the community to learn about and be a part of conservation in Tennessee is so exciting and I’m honored to play a small role in it!”

Savanna Roaldsand

Savanna Roaldsand

Community Engagement Coordinator

As Community Engagement Coordinator, Savanna Roaldsand connects our communities with The Land Trust for Tennessee’s mission through engaging educational programs, outreach initiatives, and volunteer opportunities that focus on conservation.

Savanna, a Nashville native, received her B.A. in Sustainability from Sewanee: The University of the South. She previously lived in Asheville, NC,  where she worked in the non-profit conference and event space. She served as The Land Trust for Tennessee’s Conservation Volunteer Program Leader as an AmeriCorps member for eleven months before joining as full-time staff.

In her free time, Savanna loves walking Nashville’s vast greenways systems (particularly around the Harpeth River and Shelby Bottoms) and spending time with friends and her rescue pup, Hester.

Being a part of this incredible team, witnessing the genuine sense of responsibility and passion that ignites among fellow Tennesseans for conserving our cherished state’s important places forever, fills me with joy!

Land Trust For Tennessee - Mike Szmkowicz

Mike Szymkowicz

Associate Director of Stewardship

Mike Szymkowicz is committed to being a good steward of land. As the Associate Director of Stewardship, 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 wife and family, Mike can be found enjoying live music, trying new places to eat, or working on a home improvement project.

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.

Anna Walker

Events Coordinator

Anna Walker serves as the Events Coordinator for The Land Trust for Tennessee where she develops and executes meaningful events that support and further the mission of The Land Trust.

Anna was born and raised in Atlanta, lived in Orlando for a few years, and now resides in Nashville. She graduated from Berry College in Rome, GA, with a degree in communication with a focus in public relations and a minor in psychology. Professionally, she has worked as an event coordinator for a media association, planned and directed weddings, and served as a program coordinator for a non-profit that provides leadership training to students.

In addition to trying new restaurants or exploring new cities and national parks, she loves being outside in nature during her free time either hiking, paddle boarding, or gardening. New to Nashville, Anna looks forward to exploring the city’s history and beautiful surroundings.

“I have always felt that there is nothing quite like the joy of seeing an event come together, but even more than that, planning events that serve the mission of The Land Trust means my work every day contributes to a lasting impact. It is an honor to play a small part in our mission to conserve Tennessee for future generations.”