Our Staff

Jill Erickson

Executive Director


(816) 813-0944

Natasha Karsk

Partnership Coordinator


(816) 407-8088

Jill Erickson, a Kansas City native, earned a degree in Journalism and Graphic Design from Northwest Missouri State University and has spent the last 25 years managing nonprofit organizations at various levels whose missions have supported the arts, education, urban agriculture and most recently conservation. As the co-founder and current Executive Director, Jill has co-led the Middle Blue River Urban Waters Federal Partnership since 2013 and has served as the Ambassador for the since 2016. She is passionate about the importance of nature in cities and thrives on bringing together diverse ideas and voices.

Adison Banks

Land Trust Coordinator


(816) 545-9847

A child of the prairie, Natasha grew up in Nebraska. After receiving her degree in Art Management with a minor in Business from the University of Tulsa, she moved to Kansas City and has considered it home for the past 15 years. Natasha has a strong background in nonprofit art organizations, working with national and international artists to create new works during her tenure at Grand Arts and serving the literary community of Kansas City as a past director of The Writers Place. 


While working in the arts, Natasha's passion for outdoor environments, nature, and our interaction with it grew. She owned and operated an urban farm in the KC metro for 3 years and is a recent Missouri Master Naturalist. With the intention to shift her career focus from the arts to conservation, Natasha completed her Masters in Public Administration from the University of Missouri Kansas City in 2016. Natasha seeks to unite people behind one like-minded goal: conserving our endangered wild environments. She believes in strength in numbers, that through collaboration we can truly accomplish something bigger than any one person or organization.



Adison Banks was born and raised in the Kansas City metro. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Kansas and a Juris Doctor from Washburn University School of Law. Adison is licensed to practice law in Missouri and Texas, and he has worked at the county and federal levels of government, in addition to working in private practice.

Adison has cultivated, and continues to cultivate, a passion for the environment, guided primarily by moral principles. He believes everyone has a responsibility to actively care for others and the environment, and by saving our environment we save ourselves. He has volunteered with the Sierra Club, Bridging the Gap, Mid-America Regional Council, KC Rescue Mission, and Impact KC, and has given presentations to the EPA, city councils, parks departments, and the public to help inform decisions to preserve the environment and protect human health and quality of life.

Trevor Harris

Urban Waters Ambassador


(816) 806-8084

Sarah Benal

Outreach Coordinator


(816) 349-9201

Sarah Benal grew up in Nebraska where she received her degree in English and Global Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015. She lived in South Carolina for four years where she earned her MFA in Fiction Writing in 2019 from the University of South Carolina. Sarah has a strong background in education, particularly in after-school programs and camps, and has worked with Louder Than a Bomb: Great Plains, The Loft Literary Center, NSAA Speech and Debate, and Split P Writers in the Schools. Sarah loves short story collections, dark-roast coffee and yoga.  


Sarah believes in the importance of a sense of place, and how that sense of place helps people become more empathetic and nurturing toward their communities. She believes that we are all lifetime learners and strives to create spaces where everyone feels comfortable to ask questions, embrace their space, and build connections through shared experiences. She encourages everyone to be enthusiastic, and not be scared to share what you're passionate about.

Trevor Harris was born in Missouri and has lived (and biked and paddled and run) in the state for most of his life. He earned a degree in Social Work from the University of Missouri and a graduate degree in Geography from the University of Alabama. Trevor has worked as a regional planner and public radio announcer. He also served in the Peace Corps.

Trevor is motivated to connect people with their history and environment. He is community-centered and environmentally aware. He has collaborated with neighborhood associations, historic preservation groups and conservation organizations to create a greener world. Trevor is into minimal consumption, recycling it all, bicycle commuting, and vegetable gardening. He and his wife, Lisa, enjoy old houses, hiking area trails and seeing live jazz.

Aaron Price

Fall 2020 Intern

(816) 759-7305, ext. 1148

Aaron Price grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, MO and has lived his entire life in the Kansas City area. He is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Urban Studies with an Undergraduate Certificate in GIS at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) and expects to graduate in December 2020. In 2014 Aaron was involved in a car wreck that left him paralyzed from the chest on down. Having lived with this disability for six years he is in a great position to provide unique insights into urban development and policy that affect people with disabilities. He hopes to use those insights to help provide a healthier, safe, and accessible environment within an urban space.

Our Board of Directors

Samuel Bennett

Board Treasurer

Finance Committee & Policy Work Group Member

Sam Bennett is an urban pioneer who has lived in midtown Kansas City since 1981.  He earned a bachelors degree in History and English from Simpson College in Iowa, and went on to add a masters degrees in Library Science and Public Administration from the University of Missouri.  A career in public libraries was followed by a second career as a program officer for local charitable foundations.

Sam's environmental work has included planting redwood trees in northern California, organizing for the Black Hills Alliance and Mobilization for Survival, and volunteer work with Bridging the Gap.

Matt Hart

Board Member

Finance Committee Member

Matthew Hart is a Kansas City import from Idaho via Colorado, living in Waldo since 2002. An outdoor enthusiast his entire life, he discovered the Blue River via his mountain biking hobby in 2009 and has spent hundreds of hours biking, hiking, and exploring ever since. He has helped build and maintain single track trail through the KC Urban Core since 2012.


Matt is currently the Chief Information Officer for Arise Virtual Solutions. Prior to Arise, he worked at Avaya Communications and Oracle Corporation. He received his BA in History from The Colorado College. Matt is the author of six technology books and two works of fiction, and the co-author of two children.

Kristen Bontrager

Board Member

Partnership & Policy Work Group Member

After graduating from Washburn University in 2016 with a degree in biology, Kristen focused her career and advocacy on ecology and botany. While at Washburn she researched the species of plants that colonized the under story of invasive bush Honeysuckle. She also spent time in the forests of Costa Rica studying biodiversity of Arthropods.

Kristen supported the Heartland Conservation Alliance 2016 National Fish and Wildlife “A Monarch’s View of the City” project. She also worked as a Maintenance Manager and Landscape Ecologist for a local native plant landscaping company, Down to Earth Services.


Kristen volunteers for many organizations, including Heartland Conservation Alliance’s Policy Work Group and Partnership Work Group. Kristen has assisted in teaching the Green Guard Stewards program for the past four years. She is passionate about conservation for both environmental preservation and protecting the communities around Kansas City that she loves. While not listing off the correct scientific names of plants to anyone who will listen, Kristen enjoys reading books with her two cats Grub and Dwight. 

Sarah Hemme

Board Member

Sarah grew up on the family farm an hour west of Kansas City and has lived in the metro since 2009. After stints in the historic Westside neighborhood downtown and Brookside, she settled with her partner in a small community along Blue River Road in South KC. An avid mountain biker, Sarah spends thousands of hours (and miles) each year exploring the dirt trails along the Blue River corridor and beyond. She volunteers with Urban Trail Co to build and maintain trails as well as with various HCA partners to remove invasive honeysuckle and clean up trash. She's passionate about conservation, outdoor recreation, access to public wild lands, and community cooperation and engagement.

Matthew Davis
Board President

Matt Davis is a Kansas City native with a passion for community development, active transportation and conservation. As a young man, Matt could not stay away from bicycles. This pushed him toward a career focused on improving conditions for biking and walking in the Kansas City region.

Matt is currently focused on the Rock Island Rail Corridor Shared Use Path Project as a Project Coordinator for Jackson County, Missouri. He holds a Political Science undergraduate degree from Rockhurst University and a Master of Public Administration from the Bloch School at UMKC. In his spare time, Matt enjoys spending time outdoors with his family and friends.

Chandler Little Eagle

Board Member

Partnership Work Group Member

Chandler Little Eagle was born and raised in the northland of Kansas City, Missouri. In May 2018 she earned her Bachelor's in Environmental Studies with additional minors in sustainability, History and Geography.

Chandler's passion for the outdoors stays beyond extracurricular activities as she participated in environmental activism to protect tribal land belonging to her enrolled tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux, opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline in September of 2016. She served one year of federal volunteer service through AmeriCorps as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America.)


Moving forward with her career, she is working to continue her studies to law school with a special interest in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law.

Our Steering Council

Scott Schulte

Board Secretary

Conservation & Policy Work Group Member

Scott Schulte has 26 years of experience working to protect natural resources. He served HCA as Board President for six years, from its founding in January 2012 until March of 2018.

Scott is the Senior Environmental Planner for Vireo (formerly Patti Banks Associates) since 2005 where he supports natural resource planning, design, and policy development projects. He has been a Lecturer at the University of Kansas since 2009, first in the Urban Planning Program and at the Edwards Campus since 2015, instructing undergraduates and graduate students in environmental planning and environmental impact assessment. Previously, he served as the Board Vice President and Treasurer of Blue River Watershed Association for two years. Scott has extensive experience in watershed management, natural resources planning and restoration, public policy, community engagement and training.

Roberta Vogel-Leutung

Board Member

Outreach and Education Work Group Member

Roberta has been active in Kansas City are conservation for two decades.  As career staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, she helped to start KC WildLands as part of EPAs Regional Ecosystems Priority, and chaired the WildLands executive committee for five years.  After witnessing the birth of HCA as an outgrowth of conservation planning convened by Wildlands, Roberta was once again able to use her Community Partnership role to support the beginning of HCA programming and assumption of a leadership role in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership efforts on the Blue River. Since her retirement from EPA in 2017, Roberta has remained an active volunteer with the Outreach and Education committee and looks forward to her new role as board member.  


Currently, Roberta is a Program Manager of outdoor education for Green Works in KC. 

Heartland Conservation Alliance is honored to have the leadership and expertise of our Steering Council. The Council represents our Alliance partners and provides guidance for implementing our work.


Each Council member serves a two-year term and represents a key Partner community including: Business, Education, Government, Higher education, Land trust, Nonprofit, Neighborhood/landowner, Public land manager and Water utility.


Council members support our work by:

  • Supporting staff and Board to fulfill our mission

  • Bringing ideas to the table

  • Connecting the larger group to resources

  • Broadening our networking opportunities

  • Using collective assets to implement plans and projects

  • Provide a sounding board, especially when issues may conflict

  • Provide direction and leadership

2018 HCA Steering Council Strategic Evaluation Meeting: Pictured: Back row, left to right, Stephen VanRhein, Missouri Department of Conservation; Lauren Garrott, HCA Board Secretary; Brian Nowotny, Jackson County Parks + Rec; Christina Hoxie, Hoxie Collective; Ayana Curran-Howes, HCA AmeriCorps VISTA; Andrea Clark. Middle row, left to right, Laura Don Wilkison, Artist; Lynn Youngblood, Blue River Watershed Association; Ginny Moore, The Conservation Fund, Bill Fessler, KC Parks. Front row, left to right, Amanda Graor, Mid-America Regional Council; Laura Adams, Black & Veatch; Patti Banks, Vireo; Roberta Vogel-Leutung; Jill Erickson, HCA; and  Connie Chapman.

Christina Hoxie
Brian Nowotny

Brian is the Deputy Director for Park Operations for Jackson County Parks + Rec. Jackson County’s award winning parks system is the third largest county parks system in the nation covering over 20,000 acres.  With a background in landscape architecture, Brian oversees operations, planning and park development for our county’s 690,000 residents.  Originally from Dallas, Texas, Brian has lived in the Kansas City area since 2001.  

Stephen Van Rhein

Since 2003, Stephen has been a Community Conservationist at the MO Department of Conservation working with cities and counties in the Kansas City metropolitan area to incorporate conservation friendly practices as the area grows. He has served the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks addressing rural water quality issues and spent 2+ years in Cameroon as a Peace Corps aquaculture extensionist. He has a MS in Ecology from Illinois State Univ. and a BS in Microbiology from the University of Missouri.

With over 20 years of diverse professional experience in interiors, architecture, and planning Christina coalesces interdisciplinary teams and works closely with the people of each unique community to build upon their assets, strategize transformational solutions, and fulfill their shared vision. She believes that planning provides a pathway to greater environmental quality, economic opportunity, and social equity. Christina practices this discipline with an open heart and mind, combining technical expertise with an adaptive community-centered engagement approach.

Joshua Anderson

Joshua Anderson, 5th generation Missouri farmer. Grew up farming conventionally in Northern Missouri, Iowa and Arkansas. After High school Joshua served in both the Army as a medic and with the Peace Corps in Agro-Forestry.  He also earned degrees in Geography & mapping systems from UCM, studied international development in Holland and is a alumni of UC Santa Cruz's "Center for Agro-Ecology & Sustainable Food systems. His work in non-profits began after returning home and helped start the Farmer Veteran Coalition. Currently he is the farmboss at Boys Grow where they manage 30 acres and empower urban youth by teaching entrepreneurship through Agriculture.

Suzanne Welde
Lara Isch

Lara Isch is the Sustainability Manager for the City of Kansas City, Missouri.  She has spent the majority of her 20 years in the environmental field promoting the importance of public education and involvement to create meaningful change.  An unapologetic environmental generalist, her career includes experience with consulting firms, government entities, and non-profits in subjects ranging from natural resource management to regulatory compliance.  Her passions include public service, backpacking, rivers, and all things Kansas City.    

Ian Fannin-Hughes

Ian was born and raised in Kansas, spending most of his youth lost in the woods, often on someone else's property. He graduated from K-State in 2014 with degrees in environmental science and geography. Ian has worked in the environmental field for ten years with several organizations including KDWPT, USDA, K-State Agronomy, USGS-Alaska Science Center, SynTech Research, KDHE and the City of Overland Park.


Ian currently works as the Water Quality Specialist for the City of Overland Park, managing environmental programs, education and sustainability for the City. Since taking on the new job in 2016, Ian has actively worked to become more engaged with partnering organizations like the Heartland Conservation Alliance to work collaboratively on conservation projects across the Metro.

Suzanne has been a school counselor working with youth in the Kansas City metro area since 2012.  She is excited to promote environmental awareness and conservation through the Heartland Conservation Alliance.

Joe Wheelock

Joe graduated from Iowa State University with a Master of Science degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Entomology. At ISU he developed a healthy obsession with native plants, native pollinators, and building a more resilient agroecosystem. An AmeriCorps VISTA position with BoysGrow brought him to KC while a position researching honey bees kept him here after his year of service. Joe is excited to get back to his roots and become more involved with the KC community and to help grow a sustainable KC. 


Currently Joe is the Program Coordinator for the Heartland Tree Alliance with Bridging the Gap. In his free time, he can be found playing ultimate frisbee, camping, hiking, or floating a river. 

Victoria L Dunkin

Victoria comes from Grandview, MO and is currently attending Oregon State University online for a dual BS and MS in Natural Resources, specializing in Ecological Restoration and Sustainable Agriculture. She is also in the Kansas Master Naturalist Program this spring. She hopes to combine this with her degree to localize her education and work in prairie and wetland ecology and in education for landowners to encourage sustainable, biologically diverse land management.           


She is passionate about creating a sustainable agricultural and water system access in a foundation for equality for all people.

She works full time for Service Experts heating and cooling, and is currently looking for opportunities to enter the field of research and environmental protection.

Visit Us:


Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center

4750 Troost Avenue

Kansas City, MO 64110



(816) 759-7305, ext. 1148

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