Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, Inc.

Conservation Through Community

(518) 712-9211 | info@rensselaerplateau.org

Postal: PO Box 790, Averill Park, NY 12018

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

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background photo by Nate Simms

Board of Advisors

RPA's Board of Advisors (BOA) is a group of prominent individuals who bring knowledge, experience and varying backgrounds to RPA but who would not otherwise have the time to serve on the RPA Board. The BOA advises RPA on key decisions, policy, and strategic planning but is not involved in day-to-day decisions.

John Bartow

John Bartow was appointed Executive Director of the Empire State Forest Products Association on July 18, 2015.  John is ESFPAs fifth Executive Director.  The Empire State Forest Products Association (ESFPA), a non-profit organization for businesses and individuals, is dedicated to improving the business climate for the forest products industry while promoting management of New York’s forests to meet the resource needs of today and for future generations.

 

Prior to his work at ESFPA John served 33 years for the State of New York.  His most recent work with the State was as Executive Director of the New York State Tug Hill Commission where he served from 2004-2015.  Prior to the Tug Hill Commission John was at the NYS Department of State where he served as the Director of the Division of Local Government for 9 years and as a Program Manager with the Division of Coastal Resources for 9 years.  John also served at the NYS Senate as a Research Analyst on environmental and energy issues and with the NYS St. Lawrence-Eastern Ontario Commission as a natural resources planner.

 

John is a graduate from three SUNY Colleges; SUNY Morrisville (A.A.S. 1979, Natural Resources Conservation); SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (B.S. 1982, Environmental Studies); and SUNY Albany (Masters in Regional Planning 1989).

 

John and his wife Janet live in the Capital District area and have one daughter Jessmyn who is married to Matthew Schwartz whom have two young boys - Charlie and Graham.

Dave Borland

Dave is a four-time entrepreneur. Three of his businesses have made the top five in the Albany Business Review’s Capital Region Book of Lists, in three different categories.   Now Dave is a strategic business coach, and trains, coaches and facilitates within the leadership teams of good established small to mid-size organizations around the United States.

 

Dave has served on several for-profit and not-for-profit boards, and is currently an Advisory Board Member of the NYS Small Business Development Center.  He’s also involved with Averill Park’s Boy Scout troop, is a soccer coach, and a longtime member of his church’s staff development committee.

 

Among the things Dave does for fun, he and his entire family love to hike.  Ironically, while he’s close to attaining the designation himself, his entire family are actually Adirondack 46ers, including his wife Tammie and what were then his 12 and 14 year old children.

Marc Gerstman

bio coming soon

Lisa Hoyt

Lisa is Director of the Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center in Grafton. She currently lives down the road from the Center, but for many years lived on the property as caretaker along with her husband, Pierce and their two teenage sons. The entire family enjoys the outdoors and gets a lot of enjoyment from bushwhacking through the woods with their dog Sophie as well as bicycling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, alpine skiing, kayaking and hiking. Lisa has a B.S. in Forestry from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry and has worked as an environmental educator for over 25 years. Lisa shares her love of the outdoors with youth, their families and adults in a variety of outdoor education programs for the public, outreach programs and a summer nature camp for youth. Her biggest passion is to connect children to nature “in their own backyards” so that they can become knowledgeable adults who care for the land and the environment. She has been a member of the RPA since its inception and is also a member of the New York State Outdoor Education Association, Rensselaer Land Trust, New York Forest Owners Association and the Friends of the Dyken Pond Center. 

David Hunt

David is an ecologist concentrating primarily in holistic, conservation, natural community, and deep ecology, and specializing in landscape ecology, aquatic ecology, rare species, botany, sustainable & subsistence living, ecological restoration, education that fosters ecological literacy, and intuitive & natural medicines. He has been self-employed as "Ecological Intuition & Medicine", a low-income, low-consumption, non-profit/volunteer venture since 2001, with its mission to promote a sustainable co-existence between humans and other species in nature. Major work efforts include 1) building of a "greenprint" for Rensselaer County designed to identify the areas most important to preserving all the native species of the county, 2) building and tracking of information on species rare to Rensselaer County and natural communities exemplary within the county, 3) building of information and material towards a biodiversity conservation plan and vision for the Rensselaer Plateau, 4) voluntary landowner agreements to help preserve areas on the Rensselaer Plateau important for biodiversity, 5) general inventories of ecologically important features throughout the region, 6) restorations of impacted streams, and 7) ceremonies to deepen human connections with nature. He was employed for 13 years as a community ecologist for The Nature Conservancy and New York Natural Heritage Program. His education includes botany degrees from University of Georgia (Ph.D) and Cornell University (B.A.), specializing in the classification and ecology of oaks. He is home-schooling a 6-year old son and minimizing family expenses by "living off the land" as much as possible via vegetable gardening, fruit harvesting, wildcrafting, sustainable firewood harvest, and maple syruping, while in balance with trying to maintain the family's 32 acres of mostly forest as a public nature preserve which includes areas of incipient old-growth forest, a hemlock swamp, and stream.

 

William Niemi

Bill is Professor Emeritus of Biology (Russell Sage College).  He is a charter member of the Rensselaer Land Trust (RLT) and served on its board from 1987-2012 in various capacities including being president when it was in the first group of land trusts to be accredited by the LTA.  He served as Chairman of the Brunswick Conservation Advisory Council from 1987-1994, and as RLT's representative to the County's EMC from 2007-2012.  From 1972-1980 he was a Senior Research Associate at Columbia University's College of  Physicians & Surgeons doing research on the causes of autoimmune diseases, receiving the Kermit Osserman Award in 1975 from the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation for his work.  From 1967-1972 he conducted research on the effects of DDT on the nervous system of electric eels and also served as a teaching fellow in physiology to medical students at the College of Medicine of the University of Vermont.  From 1994-2000 Bill was also a Visiting Scientist (part-time) working with Dr. David Carpenter at the Wadsworth Center (NYS  Dept of Health) studying the effects of  PCBs on brain function in rats. 

 

In 2000, he took a sabbatical leave from Sage to work with Dr. Daniel Rosen on isolating the gene for ALS.  At Sage Bill taught human physiology, comparative animal physiology, genetics, immunology, neurobiology, biostatistics, research methods for undergraduates, and pathophysiology for nurse practitioners.

 

Bill has a BA in biology from Northeastern, a MS in zoology from UNH, a PhD in Physiology & Biophysics from the College of Medicine at UVM.  He has been an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University, Stevens Institute of Technology, and the Sage College of Albany.

 

Bill lives on a 90 acre farm in Brunswick with his wife of 52 yrs, has 2 children: Dr. Erik Niemi of Bennington, VT, and Maila Niemi of Troy, NY and 3 grandchildren.  He is a life member of Trout Unlimited (Homewaters Chapter 586), Friends of Dyken Pond, Friends of Grafton Lakes, and the Audubon Society.  Although he has 4 tractors (2 antique ones and 2 newer ones) he no longer farms, but rents out land to a local farmer, although he does cut his own firewood from his woodlot.  He, with his son and brother-in-law built a post & beam barn which on the first floor has a woodworking shop and on the second floor a quilting room which houses a 12' Innova long arm quilting machine and sewing machines, which his wife, Liz (a former OR nurse) uses to make quilts for cancer victims veterans.  In his spare time Bill downhill skis with his son & grandchildren during the cold season and fishes with them in the summer.  He has installed 40 birdhouses for various species on his property, including 15 wood duck houses in10 duck ponds.  70 of the 90 acres is under a conservation easement with the USDA and the NRCC.  A tributary of the Quackenkill runs through his property.  Muskrats, beaver, otter, and waterfowl can be found in the wetland portion of his farm.

Chester J. Opalka

Chet Opalka is a co-founder of Albany Molecular Research, Inc. (AMRI).  Having retired in 2000, Chet has been very active in the local business and arts community.  He serves or has served on the Board of the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce (2006-2008), Sand Lake Center for the Arts, non-profit Boards of Trustees for the Sage Colleges, The Freddie Institute and Northeast Health until its merger with St. Peters.  Chet, with his wife, Karen joined a group of like-minded individuals, in 2003, to found The Global Child (www.theglobalchild.org) a school for poor children in Siem Reap, Cambodia. He is an advisor to and supporter of the Capital Repertory Theatre, Proctor’s Theater, and the Albany Symphony Orchestra.  He is an investor in numerous local start-up companies and was a charter member of the Tech Valley Angel Network, which morphed into the Eastern New York Angels. 

Teri Ptacek

Since 2003 Ms. Ptacek has been the Executive Director of the Agricultural Stewardship Association (ASA), a nonprofit land trust dedicated to the protection of farmland in Washington and Rensselaer counties. During that time she took ASA from an all volunteer to a professionally staffed organization, protecting approximately 13,660 acres on 80 properties and securing $20M in state, federal and private funding to purchase the development rights on farmland. The organization has recently developed a five-year farmland conservation plan and received Land Trust Accreditation under her leadership.

 

For eight years prior to ASA, Ms. Ptacek was a project coordinator for American Farmland Trust at their New York Office in Saratoga Springs where she worked on policy, land use planning and outreach activities. She was instrumental in developing agricultural and farmland protection plans for Saratoga and Rensselaer counties.

 

Teri serves on the New York Advisory Board for the Land Trust Alliance, Historic Hudson-Hoosic Partnership, Town of Greenwich Economic Development Committee and the Region 5 Open Space Conservation Advisory Committee.

 

Teri received a Master of Science in City and Regional Planning from Pratt Institute in 1992 and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1979.

David Sampson

David’s long and distinguished career includes working as a journalist with  the Troy Record and Associated Press, Congressional Aid to US Rep H. John Heinz, Attorney, Director, Hudson River Valley Communities Council, advisor Rockefeller Brothers Fund on Eastern European Greenway development, environmental consultant, formerly Adjunct Professor Columbia University, Bard College, Hearing Officer for Office State Comptroller

Wesley Slyke

Wesley R Slyke is currently Vice President/Branch Manager of First Niagara’s Wynantskill office.  His responsibilities include business development, meeting the financial wellness needs of clients, and providing overall leadership within the branch.   Wes came to First Niagara with 10 years of experience in the Financial Services industry.  Past experience includes work as an internal representative at a mutual fund company, licensed financial advisor, and retail banking branch management roles. 

 

Wes enjoys being involved and supporting community and charity organizations throughout the region.  Some of his past board involvement includes The Leukemia Lymphoma Society, The Colonie Chamber of Commerce, The Downtown Albany Business Improvement District, and The Children’s Museum at Saratoga.  Wes was also a 2011 graduate of the Albany/Schenectady Chamber’s Leadership Tech Valley program.  Currently, he enjoys volunteering and serving as Cub Master for his son Caden’s Cub Scout Troop. 

Karen Strong

Karen Strong is a conservation professional who is deeply committed to science-based decision-making and evaluation, yet believes that conservation will have limited success unless social and cultural concerns are considered. In 2018, she founded Strong Outcomes LLC, a consulting company that helps environmental organizations reach their goals by focusing on outcomes.  Prior to that, Karen worked for the Hudson River Estuary Conservation and Land Use Program for 16 years, where she established an outreach program to help Hudson Valley municipalities conserve natural resources. During her career, she built capacity to conserve natural resources in dozens of communities and organizations, including Rensselaer Plateau Alliance.  

 

Karen has a BS in Biology and MS Biodiversity Conservation and Policy from the University at Albany and Certificate in Change Leadership from Cornell University. She is also an active community volunteer, serving on on several non-profit boards, and is currently President of the Albany Public Library Board of Trustees. Karen is a lifelong resident of NY’s Hudson Valley and currently lives in Albany with her husband, Todd, and two children.

Gary Thomann

Gary Thomann is an electrical engineer who moved to the northeast in 1987 when he was 45 years old.  Since then he has been deeply involved in road biking, mountain biking and rock climbing.  He figures he has ridden 100,000 miles on his various road bikes.  As a mountain biker he has built trails at Grafton, Pittstown and Moreau Lake State Park.  He wrote a mountain bike guide book for the Adirondack state park that was published in 2001.  He has made maps for most of the mountain bike areas in the state; they are available for download from his web site.  As a rock climber he has climbed all over the U.S., and has helped to develop new cliffs in the southern Adirondacks which are now popular climbing destinations.  In his other life, i.e. work, he writes software and consults on electric power systems for Power Technologies Inc, a consulting company in Schenectady.  Gary is interested in photography and also enjoys shooting at clay pigeons, with indifferent results.  He is passionate about conservation.

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