Board of Directors

Rachel Riemann Akera

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.

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. 

Alexander Bringsjord

Alexander Christian Bringsjord is a life-long resident of Rensselaer County, and a graduate of The Albany Academy, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (BS, Business & Philosophy), and the University at Albany (MS, Accounting & Law).

Currently he works for PwC, and tries to stay active in competitive amateur golf, playing out of The Country Club of Troy.

In his professional career, Alexander has been able to draw from extensive experience as an entrepreneur. He has maintained a family business — co-owned with his father — for a decade. As someone deeply passionate about volunteering, he has been a ski patroller at Jiminy Peak in the Taconic Mountains for almost 15 years. An avid skier, golfer, and hiker, Alexander has a passion for land preservation and the beauty of nature, and plans to draw from his experience in, knowledge of, and passion

for entrepreneurship, and accounting, to work to further enhance the quality of a place he has always called home:

Rensselaer County.

Fred DeMay (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.

Jim de Waal Malefyt

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.

David Farren

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.

Richard Gibbs

Dick, a native of Minnesota, grew up on a family farm where he raised sheep and hogs to finance his education at the University of Minnesota, earning a degree in Chemical Engineering in 1966, followed by a Ph.D. in the same field at RPI in 1971.  In a 35-year career at the NYS-DEC he built and ran a testing laboratory for emissions from gasoline and diesel vehicles operating on a wide range of fuels.  Dick led the development of New York State’s programs dealing with pollution control for cars, trucks, and buses and fuels.  In retirement he has worked for NYSERDA on testing methods for high efficiency and clean wood combustion technologies.  He also organized major national energy policy conferences at MIT.  Dick is Chapter Chair of the New York Forest Owners Association and a Master Forest Owner.  He worked for 15 years to achieve the restoration of the last Fire Tower in Rensselaer County that is now attached to Grafton Lakes State Park.  He was a founding member of the Trails Committee at GLSP and spearheaded the formation of the Friends of Cherry Plain State Park. Dick has now returned to farming and forest work on a 130-acre farm in North Greenbush.  He and Shari are founding members of the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, devoted to the conservation of forest land and open space, and dedicated recreational bicyclists.

Shari Gibbs

During spring, summer and fall Shari, an avid cyclist, leads rides that feature the natural and historic sites on the Rensselaer Plateau.  In winter, she skis or snowshoes traversing either the Plateau or the Hidley Farm in North Greenbush where she lives with her husband Dick.  Coming from Minnesota farm families, Shari and Dick continue to work toward the conservation of agricultural and forest land. They share their conservation ethic and love of open space with others by maintaining trails for recreational use on their farm, opening the land to woods walks, wildflower and mushroom exploration trips, bird watching, and chainsaw safety courses. They restored and maintain the Hidley Family cemetery and annually host an outdoor “Thanksgiving Under the Hemlocks.”  Shari volunteers as ride leader for the Mohawk Hudson Cycling Club (MHCC) and the Friends of Grafton Lakes and Cherry Plain State Parks. Although officially a “retired” reading consultant and teacher (East Greenbush CS), she continues to capture every teachable moment and love of reading with her four grandkids.

Alice Howard

Alice lives with her husband in a log home deep in the woods of the Rensselaer Plateau, in the Town of Sand Lake. She holds a Master’s Degree in Library Science and had a 25-year career at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm. As an Information Manager, she was responsible for gathering, organizing and disseminating information relevant to the Firm’s interests and projects. Alice has established and manages both the RPA's Library Collection, and its ongoing Calendar of Events. She is a Board member of the Sand Lake Center of the Arts.

Lawrence Howard

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.

Pam Jacobson (Assistant Treasurer)

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.

Walter Kersch (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.

Fred McCagg (Vice President)

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!

Hanns Meissner

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. 

August Schneeberg (Secretary)

August and his wife Kate Lovering purchased a 200 year old farmhouse on the Rensselaer Plateau in the town of Berlin in 2016.  They have fallen in love with the ecology and heritage of the Plateau, and are committed to preserving and maintaining its beauty and its bounty for the diverse people of Rensselaer County and beyond. 


In his spare time, August can be found outside sugaring, target shooting, cutting firewood, growing food, hiking, mountain biking, and clearing trails.


August works in the labor movement for SEIU 200 United, and is active in the Capital District Democratic Socialists of America and the Troy Area Labor Council.

James Slavin

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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Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, Inc.

Conservation Through Community

(518) 712-9211 |

Postal: PO Box 790, Averill Park, NY 12018

Office: 17 Old Route 66, Averill Park, NY 12018

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Background photo: Nate Simms