Who We Are

In 1998, the newly-formed organization inventoried lands within the Los Padres National Forest to determine their suitability for federal designation as Wilderness. The VWA presented their findings to US Congressman Sam Farr, thereby providing a basis for the Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act, signed into law in December, 2002. The VWA then initiated projects to benefit the now-expanded Wilderness, its visitors and the wild species that call it home.

VWA volunteers have since dedicated tens of thousands of hours to stewardship and advocacy projects. While most reside in the Central Coast and San Francisco Bay Area, VWA’s 800-plus members hail from 26 US States and all walks of life. Initially an all-volunteer organization, VWA hired its first paid staff member in 2008 and its first Executive Director in 2010.

 


Ventana Wilderness Alliance Staff

 

mike splainMike Splain, Executive Director, began volunteering with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance in May of 2003. He became a part-time staff member in July, 2008 and was promoted to full-time Executive Director in April of 2012. A native of Maryland, Mike relocated to California in 1991 and has since pursued wild lands conservation as a supporter, volunteer or staff member for various advocacy organizations, including Forests Forever, Sierra Club and the California Native Plant Society. Mike holds a BS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz and currently serves as Wilderness Chair of the Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter.




richard popchakRichard Popchak, Communications and Development Director, served on the VWA Board of Directors between from 2005- 2011. A native Pennsylvanian, Richard earned a BA in History at Indiana University of Pennsylvania before moving to Santa Cruz in 1985. A long tenure in the tech industry imparted Richard with the sales, marketing, communications and development skills necessary to increase the reach of the nonprofit VWA. He is editor of the VWA newsletter, Ventana Wilderness Watch. Richard especially enjoys exploring the Milpitas Special Interest Area and the Silver Peak Wilderness.




toan doToan Do, Field Program Director, first discovered public lands on hikes between courses at the University of California, Santa Cruz. There he studied art, politics and journalism and developed a passion for social justice that remains a guiding force to this day. After college, Toan attended law school and worked with a small San Francisco tech start-up. He developed a love for backpacking as an avid international traveler to wild places like the Ladakhi region of India and the Scottish Highlands. Toan is excited to draw upon his experiences to grow the Youth in Wilderness program and continue introducing underserved students to the Big Sur backcountry. When not at the office, Toan stays active surfing, bicycling, running or hiking with his dog, Mo.



jacqui bergnerJacqui Bergner, Youth in Wilderness Program Manager, fell in love with the outdoors as a kid, escaping her hometown of Chicago to summer camps in rural Illinois. She took a big leap toward a career in conservation and moved to Bozeman, Montana, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Biology from Montana State University. Over many years recreating on the public lands of the American west, Jacqui has grown deeply concerned by undeniable gaps in gender, cultural, and socioeconomic representation. She is committed to addressing these gaps, removing barriers to participation, and changing the narrative with inclusive outdoor experiences. When not handling logistics or leading backpacking trips, Jacqui laces up her running shoes and takes to the trails.



lucy-logsdon Lucy Logsdon, Office Manager, began working with the VWA in August of 2018. A Colorado native, Lucy moved to California for middle school, and has spent most of her life exploring wild spaces. She graduated from Saint Mary’s College with a BA in Environmental Studies and her passion for environmental protection and nature photography both inform her advocacy work. When not in the office, Lucy can usually be found in the garden, next to a campfire, or on top of a mountain with a camera in hand.

 

 

 


Ventana Wilderness Alliance Board of Directors (all-volunteer)

 

david jacobsDavid Jacobs, President, has served on the VWA Board of Directors since 2005. David is a San Jose native and Santa Cruz resident since 1985. As a CPA with a BS in Accounting from the University of Southern California, he contributes valuable skills which greatly reduce the VWA’s reliance on outside financial professionals. President of Santa Cruz-based accounting firm Chiorini, Hunt and Jacobs, David has served on the boards of various non-profit organizations, both as an officer and member-at-large. He is an avid hiker, backpacker and mountain biker.

 

 

 

tom hopkinsTom Hopkins, Treasurer, is a passionate advocate for our public wildlands. He was born and raised in San Jose and developed a love for the Big Sur backcountry in his formative years. He has lived in Santa Cruz for the past 40 years and he now splits his time between the eastern Sierra and the Monterey Bay area. Extensive business and private sector expertise have aided in his completion of numerous VWA stewardship and advocacy projects. An avid outdoorsman, Tom has been hiking the Big Sur coast and Ventana backcountry since 1967. He is one of five founding members of the VWA Board of Directors.

 

 

 

maria ferdinMaria Ferdin, Secretary, began volunteering with the VWA in 2010. In the intervening years she has come to appreciate the unique wilderness qualities of the northern Santa Lucias. As an avid hiker, backpacker and longtime hike organizer for the Monterey Bay Area Hiking Group, Maria loves the backcountry trails and is particularly interested in the nexus between wilderness preservation and public access. She takes particular joy in sharing new and beautiful places with others and serves as both a Trail Crew Leader and USFS/VWA Volunteer Wilderness Ranger. A Registered Environmental Health Specialist for the Monterey County Health Department, Maria graduated from California State University at Monterey Bay with a BS in Earth Systems Science and Policy.

 

 

betsy macgowanBetsy MacGowan, Director and Trail Crew Chief, has been a VWA member since 2000 and joined the VWA board in 2009. She has enjoyed hiking in Los Padres National Forest since 1981. A lifetime member of the Sierra Club, Betsy co-edited the organization’s Trail Guide to Los Padres National Forest and led outings for its Ventana Chapter from 1988 through 1998. She is a USFS-certified Crosscut Sawyer, and for many years, has participated in trail projects with informal volunteer groups, the Ventana Chapter and the VWA. When not hard at work on the trails, she doubles as a Certified Industrial Hygienist and Certified Safety Professional, and serves as a Safety Coordinator at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

 

 

Dottie 2 Dottie Massey, Director, has wilderness in her blood. Born and raised in southern Monterey County, she spent her childhood hiking and camping in the Los Padres National Forest and along the Big Sur coast. Her happy place is where the wilderness meets the sea and she sought out the VWA in order to become active in the preservation of the masterpiece that is the Ventana Wilderness. For 30 years, Dottie has worked in the produce industry and is now managing exportation of fresh vegetables for International Produce Group in Salinas. She is grateful that international business provides the opportunity to explore other parts of the world, which only serves to reinforce her belief that there is no more beautiful place on earth than the public lands of the Big Sur backcountry.

 

 

mackenzie-littleMackenzie Little, Director, is a lifelong Monterey native and currently serves as a trusted philanthropic advisor at the Community Foundation for Monterey County. She earned a B.A. in Recording Arts from Chico State University and has led successful youth programs for the City of Seaside and San Carlos Cathedral. Despite growing up mere miles from the Ventana Wilderness, opportunities to explore that big backyard were never presented to her as a child; it wasn’t until adulthood that she cultivated a love for the land. Nowadays, when she’s not at work you can find her running the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail, at Sanctuary Rock Climbing Gym, and soaking up as much of the Big Sur backcountry as she can.

 

 

ben-bruceBen Bruce, Director, is better known as Mr. Ben by the hundreds of students at Community Partnership for Youth (CPY); he has been deeply involved in CPY’s youth mentorship program for the past 20 years. Beginning as a Middle School and later High School Leadership Program participant, he returned to his community to work for CPY after graduating from UC Davis in 2010. Today Ben serves as the organization’s Program Director. In his quest to provide youth with meaningful experiences, he discovered VWA’s Youth in Wilderness program which in turn inspired his own passion for backpacking and commitment to our local public lands. Ben also serves as a Board Member with the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), Steering Partner for the Bright Futures Education Partnership, and volunteer guitar instructor with Guitars Not Guns Monterey County.

 

greg meyerGreg Meyer, Director, earned his MA in Environmental Studies at Arizona’s Prescott College. A professional Naturalist with 25 years of experience leading outdoor adventures on five continents, he has introduced young people to the natural world through a vast array of summer camp, State Park and college recreation programs. He is currently a lecturer in the Outdoor Education and Recreation department at California State University, Monterey Bay. Inspired by his leadership, several of Greg’s students have volunteered to assist with wilderness stewardship projects in the Cone Peak and Chews Ridge environs. His expertise has guided the inception and ongoing success of VWA’s Youth in Wilderness program.

 

 

leor-pantilatLeor Pantilat, Director, is a profound Ventana Wilderness enthusiast. He is captivated and inspired by virtually all aspects of the land, from the coast to the interior, and from the rugged canyons to the summits. He is passionate about adventure running to the most rugged and remote corners of the Ventana and throughout California. Leor's adventures have led him to catalog hundreds of waterfalls in Big Sur. He also enjoys nature photography and meticulously tracking weather models. Leor understands that access to public lands facilitates his adventures and his deep connection with the land, and is committed to ensuring the protection and expansion of public lands and accessibility for the benefit of all. He earned a B.A. from Rice University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. Leor currently practices law while residing in San Carlos, California.