Staff Members - Catawba Lands Conservancy
Catawba Lands Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail staff
Tom Okel
Executive Director
Catawba Lands Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail staff
Tom Okel
Executive Director

Tom joined CLC as its executive director in 2011 after a 20-year career with Bank of America, where he was the global head of Bank of America’s Syndicated Capital Markets division. Tom has served in many leadership positions within the Charlotte community. In addition to serving as an elder for Myers Park Presbyterian Church, Tom is on the Board of Directors for the Crossroads Corporation for Affordable Housing and Community Development, the Babson Capital  Global Short Duration High Yield Fund and a member of the Board of Visitors at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. A graduate of Davidson College with a BA in economics, Tom serves on the Davidson Board of Trustees and Board of Visitors. He also holds a master’s degree in management from J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

Carolina Thread Trail Community Coordinator Bret Baronak
Bret Baronak
Carolina Thread Trail Community Coordinator
Carolina Thread Trail Community Coordinator Bret Baronak
Bret Baronak
Carolina Thread Trail Community Coordinator

Bret comes on board the Carolina Thread Trail with a background in public sector land use and transportation planning. Throughout his career, he has specialized in bicycle and pedestrian planning. From 2006 to 2014, Bret served as the Bicycle, Greenways, and Pedestrian Coordinator in Palm Beach County, Fl, where he was responsible for planning, funding and elevating awareness for non-motorized transportation.  In late 2014, he moved to the Charlotte region and held the position of Senior Transportation Planner with the Gaston-Cleveland-Lincoln MPO. Bret is a native of western Pennsylvania and a graduate of Penn State University. He is an avid road and mountain cyclist, and also enjoys hiking, travel and NASCAR racing.

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Sean Bloom
GIS Director and Biologist
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Sean Bloom
GIS Director and Biologist

Sean joined CLC in 2011 as GIS Director. His role includes mapping and geographic analysis for both CLC and the Carolina Thread Trail. Sean also assists the Stewardship Director with baseline reporting, monitoring and management of conserved lands.Sean graduated from Catawba College with an environmental science degree and biology minor. Upon graduation he took the lead Park Ranger position at Boone’s Cave Park in Lexington, N.C.  Most recently, Sean was a staff scientist with environmental consulting firm Hart & Hickman. In his free time Sean enjoys hiking, camping and kayaking with his wife and son.

Catawba Lands Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail staff
Margaret McGee Brantley
Development Director
Catawba Lands Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail staff
Margaret McGee Brantley
Development Director

Possessing 12 years of experience in marketing and development, Margaret brings to CLC an excellent understanding of fundraising techniques and growing organizations in high growth and rapid paced environments. Five years ago she created her own company M. Brantley and Associates where she successfully helped clients create and implement fundraising and marketing strategies for their organizations. She earned her bachelor’s degree from NC State University and a master’s in public administration from UNC Charlotte.

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Matt Brantley
Carolina Thread Trail - Davidson Impact Fellow
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Matt Brantley
Carolina Thread Trail - Davidson Impact Fellow

During his one-year fellowship, Matt will assist with Thread Trail community outreach and land stewardship. Matt graduated from Davidson College in 2016 with a BS in Environmental Studies. In school, his research included the effects of organic pest control methods in small scale agro-ecology as well as effects of impervious surfaces on first order streams in Mecklenburg County. He also volunteered with the Davidson College Farm and helped develop an app for students promoting sustainable food choices.

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Robin Buckler
Finance Director
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Robin Buckler
Finance Director

A graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory University, Robin worked as an auditor for Ernst & Young and most recently served as director of corporate accounting at Genuine Parts Company in Atlanta. She enjoys biking with her husband and three children, volunteering at her childrens’ school and horseback riding.

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Saxby Chaplin
Legal Counsel
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Saxby Chaplin
Legal Counsel

After practicing law for over 25 years, and working for The Trust For Public Land for 12 years, Saxby joins CLC staff as in-house legal counsel. He received his undergraduate degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology, a law degree from UNC Chapel Hill, and a master’s degree in English from UNC Charlotte. He has taught classes at The Charlotte School of Law and Central Piedmont Community College, and is currently serving as a part-time faculty member in the English department at UNC Charlotte. Saxby has also been involved with Habitat for Humanity’s Charlotte affiliate, having served two terms on the board of directors.

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Matt Covington
Director of Land Acquisition
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Matt Covington
Director of Land Acquisition

Most recently, Matt worked in private law practice in Charlotte. He holds a BA from UNC Chapel Hill and a Juris Doctorate from Campbell University. A Charlotte native, Matt is an avid outdoorsman and extremely passionate about conservation. He is a member of the Citizen Transit Advisory Group and serves on the steering committee for the Transportation Choices Alliance. Matt will advance CLC’s land protection goals by pursuing, evaluating and negotiating land projects for conservation. He also oversees landowner outreach initiatives and leads the land acquisition committee.

Marketing Director Alesia Dicosola
Alesia DiCosola
Marketing Director
Marketing Director Alesia Dicosola
Alesia DiCosola
Marketing Director

Alesia brings to the Conservancy more than eight years of marketing and public relations experience in the nonprofit and museum sectors. Her background includes media relations, online marketing, strategic communications, branding and social media. She previously worked at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Conn., and the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, N.C., where she managed marketing and public relations for the grand openings of two landmark expansion projects. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism, Alesia enjoys traveling, cooking and exploring new trails.

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Vanessa Covington
Carolina Thread Trail Outreach Coordinator
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Vanessa Covington
Carolina Thread Trail Outreach Coordinator

Vanessa joined the Carolina Thread Trail staff in October 2012 as the outreach coordinator. She spearheads community outreach efforts to support the development of local trail segments, oversees volunteers, encourages trail use and manages the Trailheads membership. Vanessa graduated from Bradley University with a degree in advertising, marketing and Spanish. Her love for travel, culture and the environment was fostered at a young age. Before joining the Thread Trail she was the outreach specialist for REI’s Charlotte market. Vanessa enjoys hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, yoga and cheese.

Program Coordinator Mary Ann Harrison
Mary Ann Harrison
Program Coordinator
Program Coordinator Mary Ann Harrison
Mary Ann Harrison
Program Coordinator

Mary Ann is CLC’s first program coordinator, a new full-time position funded through a grant from the  Women's Impact Fund. Mary Ann brings tremendous experience in outdoor education from her background with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and most recently, the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

Raised in the Southern Appalachians, Mary Ann first fell in love with the outdoors as a child digging through the mud to catch “crawdads” in local creeks. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in ecology/evolutionary biology and environmental studies and for six years, she has enthusiastically shared the natural world with others as a park ranger, park guide and environmental educator.

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Lynda Hunley
Land Protection Legal Assistant
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Lynda Hunley
Land Protection Legal Assistant

Lynda joined CLC in October 2012 as its land protection legal assistant. She assists with organizational and administrative duties for the land protection program. A native Charlottean, Lynda and her family relocated back to the Queen City from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She has a degree in urban studies from the University of New Orleans. Lynda enjoys being back home in North Carolina and spending time with her husband and children. In her spare time, she also enjoys digital art, photography and volunteering at local hospitals, and is a North Carolina Guardian ad Litem child advocate.

Carolina Thread Trail Senior Director Andy Kane
Andy Kane
Carolina Thread Trail Senior Director
Carolina Thread Trail Senior Director Andy Kane
Andy Kane
Carolina Thread Trail Senior Director

Before joining the Thread Trail team, Andy served for four years with Catawba Lands Conservancy as Land Stewardship Associate. Formerly, he was the Executive Director/VP for YMCA Camp Thunderbird with the YMCA of Greater Charlotte.  In his role with the YMCA, he provided leadership in starting YMCA Camp Harrison and the Environmental Education Center at Camp Thunderbird. Prior to moving to Charlotte, Andy was employed by the Auburn University Cooperative Extension Service specializing in horticulture and forestry. He currently is the board chairman for the Anne Springs Close Greenway and also serves on the board of Camp Blue Skies. Andy and his wife Florence have two sons.

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Sam Kirk
Stewardship Associate
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Sam Kirk
Stewardship Associate

Sam graduated from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2015 with a degree in Environmental Science and concentration in conservation. A native of Wendell, NC, Sam enjoys fishing, hunting, hiking and kayaking. While working at  Carolina Beach State Park, he drafted and implemented a plan for the restoration of Longleaf Pine, and also built and maintained trail systems in the Park. He also authored a report on the “Causes and Effects of Coyote Population Rise in the Eastern US" with specific emphasis on population management in urban and suburban areas.

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Elizabeth Miller
Executive Team Assistant
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Elizabeth Miller
Executive Team Assistant

A recent graduate of  Queens University of Charlotte, Elizabeth holds a B.A. in Spanish and international studies and brings to CLC experience in marketing, communication and translating for two local nonprofits. A native of Alabama, Elizabeth enjoys hiking, kayaking and being outdoors.

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Tammy Pfaff
Land Protection Paralegal
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Tammy Pfaff
Land Protection Paralegal

Tammy joined CLC as its Land Protection Paralegal in October 2012. In this position, she assists with land acquisitions and supports the land protection process through funding coordination and grant submissions. Tammy is a North Carolina Certified Paralegal, has more than 25 years of real estate experience and worked in conservation for more than a decade. Prior to joining CLC, she was a paralegal with The Trust for Public Land. Tammy enjoys the outdoors and spending time with her family.

Catawba Lands Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail staff
Allie Schwartz
Development Associate
Catawba Lands Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail staff
Allie Schwartz
Development Associate

Allie joined the CLC team in August 2015 as the development associate. She works to secure foundation and government grants for both the CLC and CTT, maintain updated and accurate donor information as well as assist in the coordination of development events. She graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2015 with a degree in biology.

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Sharon Wilson
Land Stewardship Director
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Sharon Wilson
Land Stewardship Director

A native of Charlotte, Sharon holds a bachelor's degree from Western Carolina University in park and recreation management. Sharon has more than 15 years experience in natural resource management. She began her career as a park ranger for Mecklenburg County's Division of Ranger Services and focused on environmental education and resource management/protection. Sharon accepted a position with the U.S. Forest Service in 1992 and turned her attention to the Chattooga River Ecosystem Management Project. During her career, Sharon has gained experience in timber management, wildlife and fisheries protection and enhancement, and wildland fire suppression. In her spare time, Sharon enjoys mountain biking and camping with her family.

Photos by Nancy Pierce