Leading Ladies: Women leading the charge in local conservation

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Cody Roney, director of Lula Lake Land Trust

Within the past three issues of Get Out, we have featured a different conservation group's newly hired executive director - and all have been women.

That got us wondering, are women leading the local conservation scene?

Based on our tally - yes. Among the 14 Chattanooga-based nonprofits dedicated to protecting and promoting local natural resources, eight, or 57%, are now run by women. Between them, these women are responsible for helping manage more than 20,000 acres, from Signal Mountain streams to Cumberland Plateau sandstone to the country's first and largest military park, and beyond.

Women in Nonprofits

Interestingly, the percentage of women leading local nonprofits is mirrored by national numbers. According to the 2018 Guidestar Nonprofit Compensation Report, the percentage of women running small nonprofits is also 57%.

This month, we decided to celebrate all of these women. Here, meet the leading ladies of local conservation.

Cody Roney, Lula Lake Land Trust

Lula Lake Land Trust protects more than 8,000 acres within Lookout Mountain's Rock Creek watershed. Its core property features the iconic Lula Lake Falls.

Hometown: Scottsboro, Alabama

Years on the job: 9 months

Childhood dream job: To be a teacher.

What's something about your organization that people may not know? We are more than just a waterfall! Lula Lake Land Trust owns over 4,000 acres on Lookout Mountain and has helped conserve over 12,000 [acres] in 25 years.

Coolest local wildlife sighting? Bald eagle. Surprisingly I've only seen two, but the coolest one was last summer [while] floating down the Hiwassee and there was an eagle sitting on the top of a tree on one of the nearby cliffs. It was quite majestic.

When it comes to nature, what's your personal philosophy? Take it all in - put the distractions away and be present in the moment. Nature has a powerful voice that can teach us a lot if we sit back and listen.

What's something you'd like to accomplish in 2020? Go on more adventures that take me out of my comfort zone.


photo Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Tricia Mims, executive director of National Park Partners

Tricia Mims, National Park Partners

National Park Partners champions the conservation of the natural, historic and cultural resources of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, composed of six unique local places covering more than 9,000 acres.

Hometown: Campbell, New York

Years on the job: 3.5

Childhood dream job: I wanted to be a doctor.

Coolest local wildlife sighting? One morning on Elder Mountain, I saw a red fox run by me carrying a groundhog in its mouth, like something out of National Geographic!

What's your favorite piece of nature-based trivia? At 9,100 acres, our local National Park is the largest public open space in the region, with over 80 miles of trails that weave through time and tell the stories that shaped our city. Pretty cool!

When it comes to nature, what's your personal philosophy? If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy - and Mother Nature ain't too happy these days. Humans have no greater right to exist than any other fauna or flora in the global ecosystem, and the more we seek to elevate ourselves from our true place in the natural world, the worse the consequences for humankind.


photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Southeastern Climbing Coalition Director Andrea Hassler

Andrea Hassler, Southeastern Climbers Coalition

Southeastern Climbers Coalition is dedicated to preserving climbing access in the Southeast. The organization currently owns seven properties totaling 90 acres, and recently helped acquire an additional 695 acres now owned by Tennessee State Parks.

Hometown: Derwood, Maryland

Years on the job: 6 months

Childhood dream job: I wanted to be Indiana Jones or Dr. Ellie Sattler (from "Jurassic Park"), among many others.

Coolest local wildlife sighting? I found a bunch of caddisfly larvae under a rock while exploring a new climbing area on the Cumberland Plateau.

What's your favorite piece of nature-based trivia? Alpine plants survive harsh winters underneath snowpack by storing carbon that produces anthocyanin, a reddish pink pigment that allows them to convert light waves into heat and readily photosynthesize, extending their chance of survival through harsh winters. Alpine plants are still fragile, however, so avoiding stepping on or crushing them will preserve these long-living perennial plant species.

When it comes to nature, what's your personal philosophy? We are a part of, not apart from, nature. Personal and shared experiences in nature can strengthen communities of resilience by fostering a sense of belonging to the places we depend on for enjoyment, exploration, and ultimately, our survival and well-being. This sense of place can motivate us to take care of the Earth, other species with whom we co-exist, each other and ourselves.

What's something you'd like to accomplish in 2020? Close the books on our loan repayment for Denny Cove, grow our stewardship and community outreach programs, and finalize a strategic plan that aligns our climbing acquisition and stewardship efforts with places of high conservation value and impact.


photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chattanooga Audubon Society Executive Director Darlene Carlson

Darlene Carlson, Chattanooga Audubon Society

Chattanooga Audubon Society helps protect and promote Chattanooga's natural resources and Cherokee history among its multiple wildlife sanctuaries, which include Maclellan Island, Audubon Mountain and Audubon Acres.

Hometown: Ocala, Florida

Years on the job: 6 months

Childhood dream job? Pediatrician.

What's something about your organization that people may not know? The Chattanooga Audubon Society is 75 years old and was the first land-trust established in Hamilton County.

Coolest local wildlife sighting? When I first started at the Chattanooga Audubon Society, I had the privilege of seeing a bald eagle gliding down South Chickamauga Creek. I have not seen this again, and I consider it a special blessing when starting my new role at the Audubon Acres sanctuary.

What's your favorite piece of nature-based trivia? Bird bones aren't just hollow, they're pneumatized. That is, they're full of spaces for air. According to Matt Wedel of the University of California Berkeley, as a baby bird grows, the air sacs that make up its lungs "invade" its bones, forming a bunch of tiny hollows. The air sacs stay attached to these hollows for a bird's life. This, along with a forward-and-backward arrangement of air sacs, helps give birds a little-known superpower: They can take in oxygen while both inhaling and exhaling.


photo Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Mary Beth Sutton, director of WaterWays

Mary Beth Sutton, WaterWays

Formerly CaribbeanSEA and TenneSEA Kids for Clean Water, WaterWays helps steward local creeks through restoration projects, school programs and adopt-a-stream networks.

Hometown: Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Years on the job: 15

Childhood dream job: Growing up Catholic and attending parochial school through eighth grade, I always thought I'd become a nun. But that's not a dream job. I think my dream job was any kind of environmental research, emulating my older sister, Margaret.

What's something about your organization that people may not know? The Gear Closet is our thrift store, and supporting it supports our water education and stream restoration efforts.

Coolest local wildlife sighting? Seeing a hellbender in the upper Nantahala. Or seeing a green salamander in Prentice Cooper with my daughter.

What's your favorite piece of nature-based trivia? That it takes several generations of monarchs to reach Mexico, and they still know how to come back!

What's something you'd like to accomplish in 2020? I would love, love, love to get Mountain Creek off the dirty-streams list through the efforts of kids and community members. And get 100 sections of local creeks adopted by community partners through our Adopt-a-Waterway program.


photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Lookout Mountain Conservancy Director Robyn Carlton

Robyn Carlton, Lookout Mountain Conservancy

Lookout Mountain Conservancy helps preserve 1,798 acres across Lookout Mountain, while promoting education, conservation and recreation through programming.

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Years on the job: 11

Coolest local wildlife sighting? An American bald eagle on Far Enough Trail. The trail goes the perimeter around our 50-acre park. It was early one morning and I was walking the trail and I saw a bald eagle resting in a tree. The sun was rising and the eagle was silhouetted with the backdrop of the Tennessee River and downtown. It was a moment in time that I realized the very delicate balance between development and nature.

What's your favorite piece of nature-based trivia? Kudzu you see above the ground is supported by a root system that is 10 to 15 times what you see. That's what makes it so difficult to get rid of.

When it comes to nature, what's your personal philosophy? It's a gift from God and it needs to be treated as such.


photo Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Brenna Kelly, the founder of Southeastern Conservation Corps

Brenna Kelly, Southeast Conservation Corps

The Southeast Conservation Corps provides community members of all ages and abilities with personal development opportunities through projects such as trail development, watershed restoration, invasive plant removal and more.

Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky

Years on the job: 8

Coolest local wildlife sighting? I am not sure if it is the coolest sighting, but definitely the most rowdy. I was backpacking the Lost Coast Trail in California and woke up to a yearling black bear pushing on my left thigh - no tent, just bedroll on ground.

Keep in mind this was before bear bins existed in that area and current policies did not permit hanging food in trees. I thought I had placed all smelly items in the center of our tiny campsite with loud pots and pans on top, but I missed pulling the oatmeal out of my pack and the bear was hip to my mistake.

I sleepily grabbed my headlamp out of my boots, mumbling something to the effect of "There's a deer pushing me." Nope, not a deer. A bear! With my oatmeal!

Needless to say, I somehow shot out of my sleeping bag without unzipping it and began banging pots and pans to scare the bear away - and ate ramen for breakfast the next two days.

What's your favorite piece of nature-based trivia? Pronghorns (deer) are SUPER COOL. They have the most amazing large eyes that help them see in a 320-degree field of vision. This helps them safely migrate and move through wide, open spaces. And they are wicked-fast.

What's something you'd like to accomplish in 2020? Professionally, I would like to continue to identify a sustaining funding plan for SECC's American Sign Language inclusion and all-female program models that we successfully launch this year. Personally, I would like to make more time for bike-touring with my husband and 3-year-old son.


photo Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Sara McIntyre, executive director of Crabtree Farms

Sara McIntyre, Crabtree Farms

Crabtree Farms is a 10-acre urban farm committed to sustainable practices, healthy food and community education.

Hometown: Merriam, Kansas

Years on the job: 5

Childhood dream job: I remember pretending as a little person to be either Laura Ingalls Wilder, which involved dressing up in layer upon layer of skirts; or a bookstore clerk/librarian.

Coolest local wildlife sighting? At the farm we see quite a bit of wildlife. However, the coolest wildlife interaction I've witnessed happened in the blackberry patch during "U-Pick" season many years ago. There was a scream, and when we came running over, a large black rat snake was wound around an old trellis post, its head in a cavity, eating baby bluebirds from the nest. While I mourn the loss of the bluebirds, the sight was terrific in its rarity, rawness and similarity to something you'd witness on the Discovery Channel.

What's your favorite piece of nature-based trivia? There are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the Earth - millions of species and billions of organisms.

When it comes to nature, what's your personal philosophy? I believe a relationship with nature is fundamental to who we are as beings. Personally, I derive a profound sense of calm, grounding and numinous joy from nature. And I take our responsibility as stewards of the Earth seriously.

What's something you'd like to accomplish in 2020? I'd like to see Crabtree Farms better and more deeply engaged with our immediate neighborhood. How that looks will depend upon our conversations with the folks who live here and their hopes, joys and desires from their neighborhood farm.

Personally, I would like to have an adventure. I've never been to Glacier National Park, so maybe a backpacking trip into the heart of that wilderness. Or, I'd love to take another long, self-supported bicycle tour across the U.S. or take an international trip.