Katie Ryan, Executive Director
Katie joined Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center in March of 2005. She brings fifteen years of experience organizing and leading field education programs throughout Oregon, Washington, California, the Yellowstone region, and Canada. Before coming to Opal Creek, she was directing programs at OMSI’s Cascade Science School in Bend, OR. At home in the mountains, she has dedicated her career to sharing these special places with students of all ages, believing 100% that people need to experience wild places in order to care about them. Having spent three years living full time at Jawbone Flats, Opal Creek has become one of her absolute favorite places to share. Katie worked as our Program Director building our ever growing programs from 2005-2009 and took over as Executive Director in October of 2009. She now lives in Bend, OR with her husband Joe and dog Murphy. When not working on behalf of Opal Creek’s amazing programs, Katie spends her time skiing, hiking, rafting, and just trying to be outside as much as possible.
Hometown: Cazenovia, NY
What are you thankful for this year?: New bridges
Playing on your iPod right now?: Phish – pretty much always
Currently reading?: In the Temple of Wolves by Rick Lamplugh
Guilty pleasure?: People magazine
Describe your ideal sandwich: A true NY deli sandwich–crusty bread, turkey, lettuce, fresh tomatoes, cheddar, and just a little dab of mayo. With a true NY pickle on the side.
Favorite outdoor spot?: Steens Mountain
When you’re not working, you’re: Hiking, rafting, skiing, spending time outside with my dog Murphy and my friends and family.
Who’s your hero?: The many people who face physical and mental disability with courage and grace.
Favorite quote: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” –John Muir
Grace Boehm, Program Coordinator
Grace hails from Kansas City, Kansas. She graduated with a Bachelor’s in history and environmental science from Goshen College (IN). Grace grew to love the earth and its ecology under the shade of a ponderosa pine in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado after attending and working at a summer camp on the massif of Pikes Peak. Before finding her way to the PNW, she studied and worked in environmental education at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center in Indiana. Grace came to Opal Creek first as a backpacking intern in 2015, worked as a Science Instructor for the 2016 season, and is excited to return for her third season at Opal Creek in 2017. At Opal Creek you’ll find her mixing a forest cocktail, delighting over the intricacies of mosses, or humbly attempting her hand in the garden.
Hometown: Kansas City, KS
What are you thankful for this year?: New wheels and new friends
Playing on your iPod right now?: Mandolin Orange
Currently reading?: New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry
Guilty pleasure?: Early 2000s fantasy/sci-fi
Describe your ideal sandwich: A hard, crusty French baguette, salami, green olives, balsamic, provolone, and caramelized onions. Doesn’t need to be in sandwich form.
Favorite outdoor spot?: A hop, skip, and a jump up Battle Ax Creek on a summer day when the sun is just right.
When you’re not working, you’re: out and about with a latte, a good book, and maybe an instrument. Or cleaning my cabin.
Who’s your hero?: Arlene Bloom, who was the expedition leader of the first American and first all-woman team summit of Annapurna in the Himalayas. Her team proved that women had the skill, strength, and courage necessary to make difficult and technical climbs. The 1978 Women’s Himalayan Expedition’s accomplishment had a positive impact around the world, changing perceptions about women’s abilities in sports and elsewhere.
Favorite quote: “I can’t seem to let go of the wondering. That’s a good thing. But meanwhile, I may give my life meaning by throwing myself recklessly into it daily, as if something astonishing is happening and I am part of it. It is and I am.” – Robert Fulghum
Erin Chmela, Kitchen Assistant
Erin Chmela has landed in Opal Creek with an enthusiastic passion for food. She loves eating it, growing it, and cooking it. She hopes her time here will teach her a bit about gathering it, too. You can find her in the kitchen with flour on her apron and a smile on her face.
What are you thankful for this year?: I am thankful for the new faces I have met this year and all the doors they have shown me.
Playing on your iPod right now?: Space Jam: The Soundtrack
Currently reading?: Showdown at Opal Creek by David Seideman
Guilty pleasure?: Really bad pop country music: “They say money can’t buy you everything. Yah I know. But it could buy me a boat! And it could buy me a truck to pull it.” Lyrical gold.
Describe your ideal sandwich: Homemade hearty sourdough, fatty pastrami, sauerkraut, spicy mustard, Mama Lil’s peppers, homegrown tomatoes, avocado, arugula.
Favorite outdoor spot?: The top of Mt. Cockayne. Just a bit higher than the top of the lift line and you can see over the back into the Craigeburn Valley. It is a magical place to watch the sunrise and take advantage of a few extra meters of fresh snow. Come alone, come with friends, or meet strangers skiing in from another mountain down the range- there is no wrong way to be sitting in my winter paradise.
When you’re not working, you’re: Probably wandering by foot or by bike down some trail – I am also probably lost. But in the best possible sense of the word. When I am not cooking for y’all, I occasionally lead the glamorous lifestyle of a puppeteer.
Who’s your hero?: My sister
Chris Golden, Kitchen Assistant
Chris is a desert dweller from Tucson, AZ. After 25 years of living in the dry climate, he was ready for an environmental change that would complement his love for the outdoors. When passing through the Northwest during a climbing trip up the western United States, Chris fell in love with the forests and weather of Oregon. Upon discovering Opal Creek and all it stands for, Chris leaped at the opportunity to join the team in 2016.
Hometown: Tucson, AZ
What are you thankful for this year?: New people, places, and opportunities
Playing on your iPod right now?: Serengeti
Currently reading?: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Guilty pleasure?: Video games
Describe your ideal sandwich: Hardy bread, lots of veggies, toasted
Favorite outdoor spot?: Smith Rock
When you’re not working, you’re: in the climbing gym or outside hiking
Who’s your hero?: Nico
Simon Gray, Facilities Director
Simon is returning to Opal Creek this year for his fourth season, and is excited to take on the challenges of the Facilities Director position. Simon grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and attended the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, where he received a dual BS/BA in conservation biology and American history. Simon likes to think of himself as an adventurous soul who is open to all the greatness that life has to offer—soaking up the bright lights of the big city and basking in the solitude of wilderness. Commonly seen or heard singing and playing music around camp, Simon is an aspiring musician who encourages you to bring an instrument on your next trip to Opal Creek.
Hometown: Berkeley, CA
What are you thankful for this year?: Clean water
Playing on your iPod right now?: The Harder They Come soundtrack
Currently reading?: Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert
Guilty pleasure: Burt Reynolds movies. No wait, why would I feel guilty about that?
Describe your ideal sandwich: Meaty, beaty, big and bouncy
Favorite outdoor spot?: Palisades Lake along the John Muir Trail
When you’re not working, you’re: Strumming my guitar or exploring the woods
Who’s your hero?: Werner Herzog
Favorite quote: “All I know is that I know nothing.”
Gabrielle Haber, Development & Communications Manager
A New England native and long-time Oregon resident, Gabrielle Haber spent three years working as Opal Creek registrar before transitioning to development and communications at the end of 2014. After graduating from Lewis and Clark College with degrees in both Art History and Anthropology, she spent six years in farmers market work and food access activism, culminating in the founding of Kitchen Share NE in 2013. She loves putting her writing and strategic planning skills to good use for Opal Creek’s grants and communications, and is currently on a continuing mission to hike all of Oregon’s 45 wilderness areas.
Hometown: Westford, MA
What are you thankful for this year?: My house, my bike, my garden, and my family
Playing on your iPod right now?: Paul Simon or the Grateful Dead
Currently reading?: Annals of the Former World by John McPhee
Guilty pleasure?: Cheesy sitcoms on Netflix
Describe your ideal sandwich: A hot, messy Reuben on sour rye
Favorite outdoor spot?: My next campsite.
When you’re not working, you’re: Either hanging out with all my favorite farmers at the Hollywood Farmers Market, or exploring the trails of the Pacific Northwest.
Who’s your hero?: My cancer-beating, twinkly-eyed grandfather who can out-cycle me any day of the week, and then do it again tomorrow.
Favorite quote: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” – Che Guevara
Janelle Hammerstrom, Registrar
After moving to Portland, OR from Richland, WA, Janelle joined Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center as Registrar in 2015. Janelle graduated from Willamette University with a bachelor’s in Mathematics and a minor in Studio Art. After graduating, she moved back home to eastern Washington where she spent a couple years working as a research associate in the Advanced Power & Energy Systems group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. A member of the Mid-Columbia Symphony and part of a very musical family, Janelle has played bassoon for roughly 15 years. Janelle is passionate about the visual arts and is working to boost her skills and exposure as an illustrator.
Hometown: Richland, WA
What are you thankful for this year?: My family and my health.
Playing on your iPod right now?: Probably Hall and Oates.
Currently reading?: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins.
Guilty pleasure?: Terrible puns
Describe your ideal sandwich: Breakfast sandwich! Delicious bagel, salty fried egg and extra sharp cheddar
Favorite outdoor spot?: The middle of a river on an inner-tube in summer
When you’re not working, you’re: Hunched over my dining room table working on a drawing, playing bassoon, running, or hiking.
Tyler Knapp, Outdoor Science Instructor
Tyler first connected with nature playing in the high desert of Bend as a child. As a teenager, he joined his high school ecology club, which took a yearly overnight field trip to Opal Creek. His amazement with the ancient forests of Opal Creek inspired him to study forest ecology and engage in environmental activism (including tree-sitting). In 2002 Tyler returned to Opal Creek as an intern, and afterwards went on to work in environmental education for various organizations. He’s excited to return to Opal Creek all these years later with more environmental education work experience and natural history knowledge.
Hometown: Bend, OR
What are you thankful for this year?: My new niece Lola
Playing on your iPod right now?: These Changing Skies by Elephant Revival
Currently reading?: Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich
Guilty pleasure?: Chimichangas
Describe your ideal sandwich: A reuben
Favorite outdoor spot?: Where Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert meet
When you’re not working, you’re: wildcrafting medicinal native plants
Who’s your hero?: Michael Meade
Favorite quote: “All mushrooms are edible. Some mushrooms are only edible once.” – Terry Pratchett
Kara Kukovich, Outdoor Science Instructor
Kara grew up in the bustling D.C. area, but was always striving for a life in the wilderness. After an Americorps/SCA internship in environmental education in 2010, she fell in love with the outdoor ed field and hasn’t looked back since. She completed a BA in Environmental Education at Prescott College, and has worked as an outdoor educator in New York, Maine, Arizona, California, Washington, the Oregon coast, Hong Kong, and China.
Hometown: Arlington, VA
What are you thankful for this year?: Wilderness, an awesome job, and the endless support of my parents
Playing on your iPod right now?: Manish Vyas
Currently reading?: Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Guilty pleasure: mosh pits
Describe your ideal sandwich: A wrap with hummus, avocado, tempeh, spinach, red pepper, and cayenne
Favorite outdoor spot?: Up a tree on top of a mountain
When you’re not working, you’re: wandering the woods, rock climbing, or practicing yoga
Who’s your hero?: My grandma, for her undying curiosity, humble strength, and compassion for others
Favorite quote: “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” – John Muir
Bryan Kurz, Facilities Assistant
Bryan is returning to Opal Creek for his second season as the new facilities assistant, after completing a fire fuels reduction project with the Student Conservation Association in Southern California. In 2016 he worked as a backpacking intern at Opal Creek and spend the summer exploring the Opal Creek Wilderness guiding expeditions. He is excited to return in this new role and help keep things up and running at Jawbone Flats.
Hometown: Lawrence, KS
What are you thankful for this year?: Good friends and good beer.
Playing on your iPod right now?: Hit that shuffle button, yo.
Currently reading?: The King Killer Chronicles: The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
Guilty pleasure?: Flaming hot Cheetos and crispy M&Ms
Describe your ideal sandwich: Large
Favorite outdoor spot: Mondos Beach, Ventura, CA
When you’re not working, you’re: Sitting around playing music
Who’s your hero?: My older brothers, Danny and James
Favorite quote: “Become like water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee
Minnie O’Grady, Food Service Manager
Minnie joined the camp community in 2013 through the Boy Scouts of America. After graduating from Oregon State University studying biocultural nutrition she tried her hand at hospitality at the Grand Canyon. One very long month later, she returned home to Oregon and subsequently camp life. Fully surrendering to the call of the woods, Minnie joined the Opal Creek team at the beginning of 2017. As the Food Service Manager, she is excited to share her homemade meals and create a space for sass and shenanigans. In her off-time you might find her gardening, rallying a team of misfits, or taking a vow of silence.
Hometown: Lebanon, OR
What are you thankful for this year?: Oregon and its seasons
Playing on your iPod right now?: What was hot when I was in high school
Currently reading?: I’m not, but I wish I were.
Guilty pleasure?: Long, profound conversations with myself. But I’m not that guilty about it.
Describe your ideal sandwich: BLT – sturdy sourdough, plenty of mayo, thick cut bacon, beefsteak tomato, no lettuce, add cheese. Lettuce has no place on a sandwich.
Favorite outdoor spot: Quartzville, OR
When you’re not working, you’re: Traveling wherever I can.
Who’s your hero?: Alton Brown
Favorite quote: “Take care of your own sh*t. Make your own money.” – Beyoncé
Alex Pozarycki, Outdoor Science Instructor
Alex grew up in Portland where he developed a passion for outdoor adventures and garden-fresh food. He fell in love with environmental education after an internship at the North Cascades Institute. Alex graduated from the Evergreen State College where he led adventures for their outdoor program. He also spent a summer as a teacher for a garden and cooking camp in Olympia, WA. He believes we need to show love and support for the next generations by giving them the resources and attention they need to thrive.
Hometown: Portland, OR
What are you thankful for this year?: For my friends who play and explore with me
Playing on your iPod right now?: Woody Guthrie and Jack Johnson
Currently reading?: Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
Guilty pleasure?: Homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
Describe your ideal sandwich: Toasted bread with pesto, grilled strips of zucchini, sauteed onions and mushrooms, topped with arugula
Favorite outdoor spot?: Splashing in the waves of the Oregon coast
When you’re not working, you’re: rock climbing, throwing Frisbee, or playing guitar
Who’s your hero?: My grandpa. He was a Forest Service ranger in Oregon and taught me to play guitar.
Favorite quote: “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”
Megan Selvig, Program Director
Megan moved to Jawbone Flats in 2015. A proud Midwest native, she has been fortunate to live and work in many distinct places. After graduating from Luther College in Decorah, IA, with a degree in Environmental Studies, Megan was a teacher/naturalist of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed where she developed an affinity for wetlands and the amphibians and reptiles that inhabit them. Most recently she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Paraguay, where she learned to slow down and listen to the howler monkeys and dwarf frogs. At Opal Creek she enjoys hunting for ‘phibs, playing in the snow, conversing over yerba mate, and learning and teaching about the ancient forest.
Hometown: St. Michael, MN
What are you thankful for this year?: Living close to nature and far from distraction
Playing on your iPod right now?: Buena Vista Social Club
Currently reading?: Woodswoman by Anna LaBastille
Guilty pleasure?: Spanish love ballads
Describe your ideal sandwich: Anything grilled
Favorite outdoor spot?: A mucky swamp
When you’re not working, you’re: playing the piano in cabin 9, or drinking mate/tereré
Who’s your hero?: My dad
Favorite quote: “Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.” — Anthony J. D’Angelo
Ellie Stimax, Outdoor Science Instructor
Ellie is originally from Maryland. She studied Spanish Education and English Language Learning (ELL) at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. After teaching ELL at a high school in Nashville for two years, Ellie decided to travel long term and pursue working in a nontraditional educational setting, preferably one where she could spend more time outside than inside. Opal Creek was a perfect fit! Ellie was drawn to Opal Creek’s mission and setting in the majestic PNW wilderness. She is excited to share her love of plants, wildlife, and environment care as an instructor with Opal Creek.
Hometown: Bel Air, MD
What are you thankful for this year?: The opportunity to live in three different countries and share many outdoor adventures with great friends.
Playing on your iPod right now?: My favorite band from New Zealand – Fat Freddy’s Drop
Currently reading?: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Guilty pleasure?: Ice cream!
Describe your ideal sandwich: Ciabatta bread, spicy hummus, avocado, arugula, cheddar cheese, tomato, and red onion
Favorite outdoor spot?: Anywhere underwater with vibrant marine life
When you’re not working, you’re: hiking, reading, doing yoga, learning about plants, studying Spanish, researching future travel plans, and hanging out with great friends.
Who’s your hero?: Frida Kahlo, an artist from Mexico. She was a powerful, passionate, and eccentric woman who defied cultural norms in her life and through her art.
Favorite quote: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” — Rachel Carson