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Rachel Riemann Akera

Board Member

Rachel lives with her 2 children, Seiji and Kai, on the Rensselaer Plateau in Grafton. They enjoy cross-country skiing, hiking, backpacking, and most of all just plain exploring in the woods and waters. Rachel has an intense interest in learning to live ever more closely and sustainably with the land around her, and in seeing our supporting landscapes persist with resilience.  Rachel has degrees in ecology, geography, and forestry, and is currently a research forester/geographer with the US Forest Service, specializing in remote sensing, geospatial analysis, spatial modeling of forest characteristics, fragmentation and urbanization effects on forest ecosystems and water quality, and integrative research to improve our ability to understand and monitor forested ecosystems and the ecosystem services they provide. She also serves as one of the three Tribal Liaisons for the USFS Northern Research Station, and is active in finding ways to bring research results into the hands of everyone. Rachel was one of the founding members and is currently the president of Boundless Woods, LLC, a community group that formed to purchase a threatened piece of land overlooking Big Bowman Pond in Taborton, NY and created a neighborhood community forest through the power of working and sharing resources together. She works with local schools and the Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center, helping to increase opportunities for our urban and rural children and their families to integrate the outdoors into their education and daily life. She also loves music and is currently president of the Troy Children’s Chorus in Troy, NY. Rachel has been an active member in the RPA since its inception.

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Jeff Briggs


Jeff, who spent his childhood in Washington State, moved back to his family roots in Massachusetts for high school. He earned a BA in zoology from the University of Denver and MS and Ph.D. in ecology from Oregon State University. After 9 years of teaching and research at the University of Wisconsin, Jeff and his family moved to Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia in 1979 where he taught biology at King Faisal University College of Medicine. After five years in the Middle East, Jeff and family returned to the US to begin a new career in environmental consulting with SCS Engineers, a solid waste management consulting firm in Reston, Virginia.  In 1993 he moved to Earth Tech in Alexandria, Virginia as senior ecologist and ecological risk assessor.  There he was involved with the ecological aspects of environmental permitting and ecological risk assessment for Superfund sites. The Briggs family moved to Poestenkill, NY to be closer to family in 2005. Jeff continued on as senior ecologist with AECOM after it acquired Earth Tech in 2008.  He has become more active in local environmental conservation since his retirement from AECOM in 2017. 

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Bob Crowley

Board Member

Bob Crowley grew up in rural Rensselaer County, with no particular interest or involvement in conservation. In those days open space, woodlands, river access, bicycling and nature hikes were taken for granted and enjoyed freely and frequently.

After undergrad at Union College, a stint in the Peace Corps, grad school at SUNY Albany and a career with the NYS Division of Budget and Department of Transportation, he (more or less randomly) volunteered for a Tomhannock Reservoir Clean Up Day organized by the Rensselaer Land Trust (RLT).  From there, six years as RLT Treasurer and four years as RLT Board President provided him with what can only be called a “full immersion” experience in the world and work of local conservation.  

In 2023, the RLT Board faced the challenge of reconciling its mandate to protect its conserved properties in perpetuity, with the realities of operating a small not-for-profit organization in the 21st century. That challenge led eventually to the merger of RLT into the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance. Bob was privileged to play a part in that process. 

As a member of the RPA Board, Bob will work to promote the conservation work needed to address the climate and resource challenges of today, with the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors he enjoyed.


Fred DeMay

Vice President

Fred and his wife Mona have lived on the Rensselaer Plateau in the Taborton area for almost 30 years. Professionally, Fred is an independent educational consultant after recently retiring from the NYS Education Department where he was the State Coordinator for Special Education Policy, Program Development and Interagency Collaboration. Fred’s interest and involvement with the RPA grew from his love of outdoor activities such as hiking and climbing, camping, trail-running, snowshoeing, Telemark and XC skiing, kayaking, scuba, biking, boating, golf and the care and stewardship of their 74 acre homestead. Their 150 year-old house has been renovated for efficiency and comfort, gardens established for produce and beauty, natural rock transformed into walls and features for landscaping, and the forest managed for wildlife habitat, wood products and recreation. Fred is a member of The Friends of Dyken Pond, ADK, ADK 46ers, NY Forest Owners Association, and the Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club. He is also active as the Chair of the Sand Lake Fire District #3 (Taborton) Board of Fire Commissioners and the Mayfield Yacht Club Board of Directors. When not busy on the trails, Fred builds and restores boats and is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed Captain.

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Jim de Waal Malefyt

Board Member

Jim lives in Poestenkill with his wife and one of their three children. Jim has a B.A. in Environmental Science and in Biology and a M.S. in Biology. For the past 35 years Jim has lived in Rensselaer County and works for the NYS Dept. of Public Service supervising the environmental review of power plants and electric and gas transmission lines. For the past 15 years he has been a member of the Conservation Advisory Council for the Town of Poestenkill. He has also been a trustee for Loudonville Community Church and a former officer of the Tackawasick Bird Dog Club of Nassau. Jim enjoys birding, hunting, fishing, hiking, x-county skiing, and almost anything in the outdoors. He is an Adirondack 46er and a Catskill 35er. Currently, Jim is a member of the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club and the Rensselaer Land Trust.

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Tanja Eise

Board Member

Tanja moved to Wynantskill in 2006 with her husband and three daughters when they relocated from Arizona, where she lived in various parts of the state, including the Navajo Reservation where she taught high school. Though she adores the change of seasons and skiing in the woods or on the slopes, she still misses the many wonders of the desert which she came to deeply appreciate while living there. Tanja grew up in Orange County, NY on a hobby farm. She first experienced the thrill of being outdoors and the associated mental and physical health benefits during a month-long backpacking trip in the Alaska wilderness as a young adult. She got hooked and spent most of her free time over the next decade looking for new mountains to climb or ski. Since having a family, she's been arranging outdoor adventures as near as Poesten Kill Bends (her favorite RPA property) and as far away as Norway and Costa Rica. Professionally, Tanja worked for the world's largest educational content provider, Pearson Education, for over twenty years in a variety of roles including editorial development, sales management and technology consulting. She is currently Director of Marketing and Sales for SUNY Press in Albany. In her free time, she volunteers at the Brunswick Cares Food Pantry and gets outdoors to hike, ski, and kayak as much as possible.

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David Farren

Board Member

David Farren has lived with his wife since 1999 not far from the Rensselaer Plateau on a 23-acre wooded property in New Lebanon, Columbia County.  He delights in tending his half-acre pond stocked with koi and one remaining golden orfe, enlarging his gardens each year, and hiking and snowshoeing over his and adjoining undeveloped land to enjoy unimpeded vistas of the Catskills, a hemlock ravine and ancient forest patches.  More than 1,500 acres of surrounding land drain through his pond, among the largest catchment areas in Columbia County.  He has been an active member of the New Lebanon Conservation Advisory Council since 2012 and serves as treasurer of the Corkscrew Rail Trail Association.  He helped launch the pioneering museum Behold! New Lebanon, which celebrates rural life in America in uniquely immersive ways.  In his professional career, more than half in educational publishing, David travelled first from his Chicago base throughout four Midwestern states before being promoted to manage college textbook sales in the U.S., overseas territories and Canada from New York City.  He later managed international sales and marketing for Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston, averaging 18 weeks of overseas travel for 15 years.  More recently, he worked in administration for the SUNY System offices in Albany and for Hunter College near his apartment in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  As a consultant, he edits, researches and writes collateral materials for an international communications firm.  A graduate of Williams College, he serves as head agent for his class and completed a three-year term as Alumni Fund Vice-Chair.  He has also been a long-time class agent for Phillips Exeter Academy and an active parent volunteer for the schools and colleges his two sons attended.  His sons are alumni of Camp Becket in the Berkshires, where both rose to leadership roles and his wife served two terms as trustee.  In addition to the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, David supports numerous cultural and environmental organizations, including the Columbia Land Conservancy, Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, and Tannery Pond Concerts.

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David Gaskell

Board Member

David spent his childhood growing up on a family farm in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, with forests more prevalent than fields.  He obtained an undergraduate degree from Amherst College (American Studies) and Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management.  Without a career path, he took an internship with New York State and came to the Capital District.  His State career spanned 33 years during which time he held 12 different positions in six state agencies.  His areas of work included budgeting and expenditure analysis, revenues and tax policy, local governments and municipal affairs, social services, legislation, and real property services and administration.  Post State employment involved several avenues.  He became a small claims court hearing officer in four local counties.  With another consulting firm he did work for Vermont, Rhode Island, and 26 cities and towns in New Hampshire.  With a retired fellow State employee he did consulting work in a number of local communities (Schenectady, Cohoes, Troy, New Scotland, Nassau, Chatham, Rensselaer).  With six other retired State employees from diverse fields, The Hudson Group was formed.  The firm did consulting work in the Capital District, Adirondack, Catskill, and Hudson Valley Region of New York; ranging from prison industries, impact of large development projects on local finances, local government consolidation and improvement, to casino gambling.

David has been connected to land and nature all of his life.  Part of the family farm (the forestland) in the Northeast Kingdom is owned by David and his children, on which they practice sustainable forestry.  Since moving to Rensselaer County in 1970, he has lived in Nassau, Sand Lake, and now Poestenkill.   He proceeded to acquire several pieces of land, including two which became the building block foundation of Rensselaer Land Trust’s Kinderhook Nature Preserve. While always engaged with his land, developing the Kinderhook Nature Preserve became a primary passion.  Land and nature have been his sanctuary and relief from the stresses of work and life. For David, forests and nature have provided exercise, spiritual, connectivity, and regenerative needs.

David believes that RPA, in its short life, has already made a huge difference in the quality of life of many people, and that RPA represents the best exemplar of the  Seventh Generation Principle of the Haudenosaunee that “the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.”

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Rama Hamarneh

Board Member

Rama Hamarneh has lived in Troy with her husband since 2019, after completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is passionate about the RPA's mission to preserve and expand access to the natural treasures of the Plateau, and to engage with local communities to pursue mutual aims and establish strong cooperative relationships.


Rama enjoys walking the full set of RPA properties as often as she can, and takes every available opportunity to better acquaint herself with the Plateau's rich diversity of bird and tree species. Rama works in the Dept. of Electrical, Computer, & Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and further contributes to the RPA as a member of the Poesten Kill Bends Preserve Committee and leader of the Nature Book Club.

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Keith Hirokawa

Board Member

Since 2009, Keith has lived in Wynantskill with his two boys, Owen and Ethan.  They spend their time exploring the woods and creeks of the Rensselaer Plateau and Southern Vermont, usually finding things to jump from into water with their yellow lab, Lucy. During the warm months of the year, you can spot their car by the kayaks on the roof and bikes loaded on the trunk. While growing up, Keith lived in several cities on the East Coast, but spent much of his time in the hills and valleys of southern Vermont, wandering woods and waterways. After college, Keith studied law and philosophy at the University of Connecticut, then specialized his studies in environmental law at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon.  He remained in the Pacific Northwest to practice law, representing community groups and environmental organizations in land use and environmental disputes.  Then, after the birth of his oldest son Owen, he shifted to full-time teaching.  He has taught at the University of Oregon School of Law, Texas A & M School of Law (formerly Texas Wesleyan), and Albany Law School. Keith has published three books and dozens of articles on environmental law and ethics, land-use planning, climate change, sustainability and property. His current research focuses on local environmental governance and ecosystem services (the manner in which functioning ecosystems provide valuable benefits to human life and well-being).


Lawrence Howard

Executive Committee Counsel

Lawrence Howard is a partner in the firm of Shulman, Howard and McPherson, LLP and has made a career of promoting progressive land use planning in the Hudson and Mohawk River Valleys, the Capital District and the Southern Adirondacks. He has been providing professional legal and planning services to public, private and non-profit clients since 1996 including help with land use, zoning, real estate, wills and estates, environmental and geographical impact analysis. With a focus on collaboration with local governments, land trusts and the agricultural community, he has worked to preserve farmland, to preserve open space and to protect land on a regional scale. Working with public and private clients, he has advised innovative developers in their efforts to plan mixed use developments and conservation subdivisions, counseled municipal planning and zoning boards, and drafted numerous local zoning laws. Lawrence Howard holds a Masters degree in City and Regional Planning from Pratt Institute and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School and has spoken on land use and zoning issues at events sponsored by the American Planning Association, the Land Trust Alliance, the New York Association of Towns, and the New York Planning Federation. He is also a principal of Blueberry Ridge Stewardship Services, LLC, which was formed to facilitate and expand land conservation through the provision of professional planning, monitoring and documentation services.

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Pam Jacobson


Pam has lived in Averill Park for 10 years with her husband JR and their two children, Jake and Lilly. She grew up in western MA at her family’s 200-year-old home surrounded by 120 acres of pastures and woodlands where she grew to appreciate local habitats and ecology. She graduated from Syracuse University with a biology degree then worked with Corvids (blue jay family) at UMass-Amherst, and UNL-University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Pam now works at the Sand Lake Town library and continues to enjoy spending time in the conserved lands of Rensselaer County.

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Walter Kersch

Assistant Treasurer

Walter and his wife Terri have lived in East Poestenkill on the Rensselaer Plateau since 1969. A mathematics teacher, with advanced degrees in guidance, counseling and educational administration, he served as Junior - Senior High School Principal in Berlin. His love of the woods, streams and natural environment, along with his enjoyment and hobby of ski instructor, led to the discovery of a new passion: Pineridge Cross-Country Ski Area. Pineridge opened in 1984, and the development of new ski and snowshoe trails, using the natural beauty of the landscape, has been his work, discovery and play since that time. After retiring from education, Walter continued his interest in forest management and conservation by earning certification as a Master Forest Owner through Cornell. (MFO's are trained and available to the public for free walks and visits to help all landowners become better stewards of their woodlots.) He has served as Past Chairman and member of the Conservation Advisory Council for the Town of Poestenkill for the past 15 years. He currently serves as treasurer for the RPA and looks at the RPA to educate landowners regarding their forests and to help towns provide options for private landowners to preserve their working forests.

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Michelle LeClair

Board Member

Michelle’s first involvement with Rensselaer Land Trust and Rensselaer Plateau Alliance began a few years ago when she joined the RLT/RPA volunteer trail crew. The trail crew helps develop and maintain trails on the various nature preserves in Rensselaer County. After a few weeks of bushwhacking, trail marking, and trimming with her fellow tree huggers, she was hooked and never looked back. Michelle joined RLT’s Board of Directors in July 2022  and served on RLT’s finance committee until RLT and RPA merged in January 2024. She now serves on the RPA Board of Directors as well as RPA’s Finance committee.

Michelle studied at George Washington University where she earned her MBA in Finance and Investments. She has retired from a professional career spent managing investments and coordinating financial, tax and estate planning for high net worth clients.

Michelle is happiest in the woods and firmly believes that we all have a responsibility to protect and preserve our natural surroundings for future generations. A large part of that is ensuring that nature is accessible so everyone can appreciate the beauty of nature and the importance of protecting it. Being on the Plateau Alliance Board enables her to play a small but important part in that endeavor.

In her spare time, Michelle serves as a trail steward for Barbersville Falls Preserve in Poestenkill. And she takes every opportunity to enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, snowshoeing, skiing and just being outdoors whenever possible.

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Fred McCagg


Fred lives with his wife Lani Richards in East Nassau bordering the Albert Family Community Forest on the Rensselaer Plateau.  He is currently the Highway Superintendent in the Town of Nassau. Fred has had a lifelong passion for the outdoors and wilderness including camping, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and scuba diving. He has an Occupational Certificate in Forestry and Wildlife I & II, and is a member of several environmental organizations.


Out of his passion for wilderness and the great outdoors Fred started Dynamic Sport Adventures in 2012 and became a NYSDEC Licensed Guide. He is a certified early childhood facilitator for Project Learning Tree in Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood, Growing Up WILD, Getting Little Feet WET and Project WILD. He leads outdoor adventures and conducts wilderness training for adults and children.  His passion is to get people outdoors, especially children and families!

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Hanns Meissner

Board Member

Hanns recently retired as the Chief Executive Officer of The Arc of Rensselaer County where he worked to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of community life for the last 40 years.  He continues to be active in building community in local, state, national, and international nonprofit arenas. Over the years, he has assumed leadership roles with such groups the National Rehabilitation Association, New York State Rehabilitation Association, a local Community Services Board, the NYS Capital Region Council for Young Children with Special Needs, and Partners of the Americas.

He has a Ph.D. in Organization Development and has applied much of what he learned in his studies at his former agency. He has used his expertise in management, organization development, and person centered approaches to consultant with profit and non-profit organizations and government agencies in the areas of executive coaching, strategic planning, team building, conflict resolution, and leadership and management training. Additionally, he was an Academic Director with Antioch Graduate School in the Department of Organization and Management, where he advised students and instructed on a variety of management related subjects for over 17 years. He has taught at Sage Graduate School in the Doctoral Nursing Leadership Program. He routinely presents at State and National conferences on management and disability related issues. He specializes in designing and facilitating of multi-phase learning institutes on innovations in individualized supports and is in the process of writing a user guide on the subject.


Dr. Meissner has published articles in journals and two books—-one called Creating Blue Space – Fostering Innovative Support Practices for People with Developmental Disabilities. He has also published a book on inter-organizational collaboration for international non-profits. He is married to Linda Munro and they have two grown daughters. They spend their time between their home in West Sand Lake and Keene NY. Hanns is an avid hiker and is a member of the Adirondack Mt Club and ADK 46ers. 

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Tom Phillips

Board Member

Tom Phillips has lived in East Schodack for over forty years since graduating from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. He worked as an associate then as a partner at the Nassau Veterinary Clinic for most of those years retiring in 2021. He initially practiced both farm animal medicine and small animal medicine then transitioned into solely small animal medicine as the number of farms diminished in the county. He became a member of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry in 2007 and finished his career performing specialty dentistry and oral surgery. 

Tom has been a member and board member of the Rensselaer Land Trust for many years and now look forward to continuing my service with RPA. He lead s the volunteer committee which maintains the Schodack section of the Albany Hudson Electric Trail, (AHET), the new bike trail that is a portion of the Empire State Trail. He also volunteers with the Wednesday Trail Crew.

When Tom was a young boy he accompanied my grandfather, an avid botanist, on numerous field trips and developed a strong interest in Natural History. He inherited his grandfather’s love of plants, particularly those of unique natural habitats such as peat bogs and other wetlands. Tom has a particular interest in mosses (Bryology) and lichens (Lichenology) and has helped with several professional level ecologic surveys involving these two groups. He have published an article on a state rare Sphagnum species he found new to Rensselaer County and was a coauthor of a moss and lichen survey of the Dyken Pond Environmental Center where we found two state rare mosses and a liverwort new to Rensselaer County. He’s an active member of the NY Flora Association and he help organize a field Botany and Natural History group who meet on Friday evenings during the field season. This is a group of amateur enthusiasts as well as professionals. Our group is open to the public and we are always looking for interesting places to explore in the Capital District area.

Since retiring he has enjoyed more time for travel both nationally and internationally. His wife, Peggy, and he both enjoy numerous outdoor activities including swimming, biking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, triathlons, and any outing to explore our area.

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Sophie Schwarz-Eise

Board Member

Sophie has lived in Rensselaer County with her family since she was 3 years old. Moving from Arizona, she quickly fell in love with the seasons and wildlife of Upstate NY. She is currently a student at SUNY Binghamton, where she is studying environmental science.

In her spare time, Sophie enjoys running, hiking, skiing, and just being outdoors, which led to her discovery of the RPA properties. Today she enjoys exploring the many, diverse properties on the Rensselaer Plateau with friends, family, and her two Bernese Mountain Dogs any time she gets the chance. Her latest favorite property is RPA's Valentino Family Community Forest!


Sophie is also active in the climate justice movement and has helped organize youth climate strikes in Albany, NY in the past. 

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James Slavin

Board Member

Jim was raised in rural western Massachusetts. As a young man he spent most of his free time outdoors, hiking, skiing and playing competitive sports. He attended the 6 year RPI/Albany Medical School biomed program. After finishing his residency at Albany Medical Center Hospital he practiced orthopedic surgery in Troy for 32 years.

He has served on the boards of St. Peter’s Health Partners, Unity House of Troy (chair and treasurer), and the Albany chapter of the ADK (chair). Jim has worked on the trail crew for the ADK, Taconic Hiking Club, Little’s Lake and RPA. Jim also taught “Wilderness Safety” and ”Leave No Trace” for the ADK and THC. He is a hiking leader for the ADK.


Since retirement he has volunteered for Unity House, taught boxing for people with Parkinson’s disease, and was a visiting instructor in orthopedics at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, Kumasi, Ghana. In the winter he is a ski instructor and instructor trainer at Jiminy Peak.

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