Key Staff

Ford Church, M.A., Founder and Executive Director

FordChurchFord is ultimately responsible for the success of the Cottonwood Institute. Ford has 18 years of professional experience working for a variety of nonprofit environmental education organizations, for-profit outdoor companies, and public schools in Colorado. Ford received a M.A. in Adventure Education Program Management from Prescott College in 2003 where he designed the Community Adventure Program as a culminating project of his thesis. He received a B.S.B.A. in Marketing from the University of Denver in 1998.


Madeline Bachner Lane, M.S., Program Director

Madeline is responsible for making sure Cottonwood Institute delivers high quality, high impact programs. Madeline has been with the Cottonwood Institute for 6 years and has over 17 years of outdoor education and guiding experience along with a passion for sharing her love of nature and adventure with others. She earned a B.A. in biology at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in 2002 and completed an M.S. in Environmental Education through Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts with the Audubon Expedition Institute in 2007.



Taryn is responsible for managing the logistics and producing effective CI programs. She is an outdoor adventure enthusiast and brings a passion for providing youth the opportunity to connect with the natural world around them.  Taryn has over 9 years of experience working with a variety of environmental education and outdoor youth organizations nationwide.  She earned her M.S. in Natural Resources with a certification in Environmental Education from the University of Idaho in 2012.  She received her B.S. in Environmental Geography from Ohio University in 2009.


Vicki Whisenhunt, B.S., Administrative & Logistics Coordinator

Vicki WhisenhuntVicki is crucial in supporting our programming needs.  In addition to helping with administrative demands, she works alongside our Program Manager, Taryn Longberry, to make sure our field programs are executed smoothly as well as our event planning efforts. Vicki graduated from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke with a degree in Elementary Education and a minor in Spanish. She has spent the last 3 years working outdoors with students of all ages as a field trip leader and summer camp director.




Cindy Allen, M.S., Board Member, Regulatory Policy Manager,  Anadarko

Jessy Clark, M.S., Board Member, Chief Operating Officer, Swallow Hill Music

Eric Ellison, M.S., Board Member, Research Scientist at University of Colorado-Boulder and Cottonwood Institute Alumni

Joel Frank, B.A., Board Member, Senior Tax Advisor, Timberline Tax Group

Bill Kelly, J.D., Board Member, Founding Member and Lawyer at Kelly & Walker LLC

Kevin Lambert, B.S.B.A., Board Chair, VP of Sales – Akamai

Joshua Peterson, M.B.A., Board Treasurer, Financial Analyst at USAA, United States Army Veteran

Ana Soler, M.A. Ed., Board Member, Program Director, Gates Family Foundation

Rivers Stilwell, Associates Degree, Board Member, Director of Management Training and Leadership Development at Snooze an A.M. Eatery

Wendy Stockholm, B.A., Board Member, Practice Director – Business Applications, K1 Operations

Jake Tiernan, J.D., Board Member, Attorney at Moye | White

Advisory Board

Mikal Belicove, Ph.D [hon.], Advisory Board Member, ‘Business Thinker,’ book author, Columnist for Entrepreneur magazine

Linda Bjork, Advisory Board Member, Vice President, Board of Directors at YAYA, Inc.

Eric Curry, Advisory Board Member, VP Communications Department for CoBiz Financial

Paul Dreyer, M.A., Board Member, Director of Risk Management at Avid 4 Adventure

Andrew Ekberg, M.B.A., Advisory Board Member, Financial Representative at Northwestern Mutual

Adam Fiedor, M.B.A., Advisory Board Member, Director at KPMG Corporate Finance, LLC

Fay Hartman, B.S., Advisory Board Member, Intermountain West Blue Trails Manager

Matthew Keeney, B.A., Advisory Board Member, President at Agency Off Record, Inc.

Brandon Long, B.A., Advisory Board Member, Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management

Josh Maida P.M.P., Advisory Board Member, Manager of Project Development at Samuel Engineering

Rick Medrick, Ed. D., Advisory Board Member, Ph.D. Program Director at Prescott College

Lauren Milne, B.A., Advisory Board Member, Marketing Specialist at gkkworks

Byrne Reese, Advisory Board Member, Product at BuildingConnected

Kalpana Singh Rhodes, Advisory Board Member, Co-Owner at Larksen, LLC

Emily Vercoe, M.N.M., M.S., Advisory Board Member. Education, Outreach, Diversity Coordinator Wyoming NSF EPSCoR

Featured Instructors

Kristin MahargKristin Maharg, M.S.

An advocate of sustainable food systems, Kristin believes that meaningful, hands-on outdoor experiences are critical for youth to become fully engaged in the learning process. That’s why she joined the Cottonwood Institute through instructing the first year of the Cesar Chavez Organic Gardening Project. During that time, she witnessed how the vital connection between outdoor play and essential work not only brings joy to students, but it also gives them a relevant understanding of their role in the natural world and how to make positive change. Kristin began her work in environmental education while she obtained degrees in Wildlife Ecology and Spanish followed by Agroecology and Water Resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She enjoys learning about the natural history of the Colorado Rockies, spreading love through food and music as well as “monkeying” around on very tall rocks.


Jessi BurgJessi Burg, M.S.

Jessi has been working and playing outside for nearly her entire life. Ten years ago, she discovered that she could make a career out of working outside with kids, and she’s never looked back. Jessi has taught all over the continental U.S., and worked with youth of all ages; leading trips and having fun along the way. Over the last two years, she’s been leading 1-5 day trips with Cottonwood Institute and teaching mini-CAP programs. Jessi has a B.A. in Anthropology from St. Lawrence University and a Master’s Degree in Environmental Leadership from Naropa University. In her spare time, Jessi can be found hiking, crocheting, and conducting high altitude cooking experiments. Her goal is to find a way to bake soft cookies in the Mile High City.


Michael Geddes, B.A.

Though born and raised in Queens, New York, Michael Geddes made his way to Colorado and joined our team at the Cottonwood Institute last season. For the past few years, he has dedicated his life to community and environmental service; developing a background in urban farming and trail work through various stints with reputed nonprofits and conservation corps. Mike’s work and education in sustainability studies and environmental design, policy and planning at Stony Brook University has led him to his true passion for working with young people in an educational capacity. He hopes to one day create an after-school program which empowers students to become actionable and informed youth climate advocates.


Drover HallRyan “Drover” Hall, B.S.

Drover’s passions in life are teaching, being outdoors, and making things; if he can do these three things he’s a happy man. He believes in a life full of adventure, with survival walkabouts in the deserts, going on bicycle trips (like from California to Florida), exploring majestic canyons, and gliding through untouched snow in the backcountry. He follows the old mantra of “the more you know the less you need.” Thus he’s a man of many skills from the modern age all the way back to ancient times. He enjoys teaching welding; tanning hides; carving wood and stone; making kayaks from raw materials; building with timbers; playing with clay; making herbal medicine; and blacksmithing. He is an instructor for a variety of Cottonwood Institute programs including Military Kids Project, Endangered Wolves Project, and Community Adventure Program.