Board of Directors

Founded by the Coconino Natural Resource Conservation District, Willow Bend’s Board of Directors meets every 2nd Tuesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Willow Bend, 703 E. Sawmill Rd, Flagstaff.  Interested in a board position? Contact, (928) 779-1745.

Willow Bend Board of Directors



Ariel Leonard, Board President / Forest Planner, US Forest Service

Ariel was born and raised in Maryland. She attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio where she studied biology. Since she graduated in 1987, Ariel has worked for the Park Service and Forest Service in various capacities. She attended graduate School at Northern Arizona University where she received a Master’s degree in Forestry. Ariel has worked for the Kaibab National Forest since 2004 and currently serves as the Forest Planner and Climate Change Coordinator.



Michele James, Co Vice President / Research Coordinator, Part-time Faculty NAU

Michele is a Research Coordinator at the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and an adjunct professor teaching First Year Seminar classes. She has a B.S in wildlife biology, a Master’s from the Sustainable Communities Program, and a post-baccalaureate degree in Visual Communication. She spent over 15 years managing endangered and threatened species, working for federal agencies and non-profits in Oregon and Arizona. Michele enjoys hiking and camping with her family, photography, stained glass, poetry, and fixing up an old house in Flagstaff.


creeCree Donovan, Co Vice President / Teacher, Alpine Leadership Academy

Cree has a B.A. from Northern Arizona University in Speech Communications with a minor in Theater, and an M.A. from Southwestern University, Las Vegas, NV, in Elementary Education. Cree has taught for 12 years, including 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th grade students at Cromer Elementary and Mt. Elden Middle School. She is currently teaching 6th graders in Alpine Leadership Academy, an outdoor education program within Mt. Elden Middle School. She enjoys teaching about human/environment interaction and the importance of stewardship and sustainability.


Mary McKell, Treasurer/ FUSD Counselor (retired) 

Mary grew up in Minnesota and received a B.S. in Elementary Education from St. Cloud State University. After graduation she moved to Ft. Defiance on the Navajo Reservation and taught in the elementary grades for 5 years.  She then moved to Flagstaff and earned a Masters degree in counseling and an Ed.D. in Educational Administration from NAU.  Before retiring, she was an elementary school counselor in FUSD and Killip and Knoles elementary schools.  Mary serves on different non-profit boards including CCC& Y (Coconino Coalition for Children and Youth). She and her husband, who is a retired NAU professor, enjoy the many activities and diversity that Flagstaff has to offer.


Whitney Tapia, Secretary / Assistant Professor, NAU

Whitney received her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, Master’s degree in Educational Foundations, and her Principal Certification from Northern Arizona University. Whitney has taught for 11 years, mainly in the Flagstaff Unified School District. Currently, she teaches Introduction to Education at NAU. Whitney was the 2010 recipient of the Sustainability in Education for the 21st Century Award. In 2015, she was recognized as the Coconino County Teacher of the year, and was a semifinalist for the 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year. A native of Flagstaff, Whitney has great pride in this mountain town, and she cannot imagine a better place to build a life with her husband, and to raise her two children.


Jeff Balmat, Safety Professional / W.L. Gore

Jeff grew up in the leafy forests of Pennsylvania, a student of nature since elementary school. After college he moved west–the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sonoran Desert, and Colorado Plateau–to make a living monitoring ecosystem health for various federal agencies. Jeff holds both bachelors and masters degrees in Geography and has enjoyed the outdoor time he has spent conducting fieldwork in fifteen National Parks and five other countries. After one too many government shutdowns, Jeff set his sights on another passion: workplace safety.  He now works as a safety professional for a private corporation. Jeff satisfies his enduring passion for trees by spending time in the woods with his wife and kid, the latter of whom is a regular at Willow Bend.


Daniel Foley / USGS – Geologist

Danny has earned a B.S. and M.S. in Geological Sciences from ASU and a Geographic Information Systems Graduate Certificate from NAU. He is currently working on a second M.S. in Applied Geospatial Sciences at NAU while working as a research geographer at the USGS in Flagstaff and as a part time faculty instructor of Earth and Space Science at Coconino Community College, Northland Pioneer College, and Grand Canyon University. He has done extensive geologic field work taking him to remote corners of the world form the Arctic to the Antarctic. He has worked as a Research Analyst in mission operations for the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera at ASU and has been a member of the Mars Exploration Rover science team as well as an instructor of Geology at Mesa Community College and lecturer at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. His current research interests include utilizing geospatial technology and remote sensing to solve problems in Earth science and environmental sustainability. Danny is passionate about STEM education and is excited to be a member of the Board at Willow Bend to help foster an environmentally conscious community.


Helen Galerakis/ Chief Financial Officer, Head of Finance

Helen is Greek British and moved to Flagstaff in 2017.  She quit the Corporate World of 22 years where she was Chief Financial Officer for a Global Built Asset Consultancy firm based in Hong Kong, looking after Asia.  She moved to Crete, Greece and upon pursuing a life of self discovery she found a love for running and a passion for the outdoors.  Wanting to combine these 2 passions, she moved to Flagstaff to learn how to run in the mountains.  She enjoys racing the Ultra distances.  Helen is also a board member for Girls on the Run, a mentor to small/medium sized businesses through SCORE, a Flagstaff Open Space Steward and volunteers at the library.


Tom Hanecak / Maintenance and Operations Manager, Coconino County  

Tom was born and raised in a small town in Northwestern Connecticut, and spent most of his free time playing in the woods with his brothers.  He received a B.S. in Biology from Saint Michael’s College, VT. Upon completing his college studies, he headed off to Gabon, Africa for 2 ½ years to serve as an Environmental Education volunteer for the Peace Corps.  Shortly after his return to the US, he moved to Flagstaff AZ and is working for Coconino County (holding different positions over the past 10 years). Tom enjoys everything related to outdoor recreation, but spends the majority of his time observing/filming wildlife and perusing game animals with a bow in hand.  He fills the rest of my free time in the company of friends, in the garden and with woodworking projects.


Jana Sterling / Vice President, SWCA Environmental Consultants

Jana grew up in a ranching community in west Texas and received her B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University. She spent the first six years of her career as an itinerant biologist with a focus on field ornithology, and then became a park ranger for the City of Phoenix Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area where she was responsible for leading environmental education programs. Jana has worked at SWCA Environmental Consultants for the past 15 years, starting as a field biologist and was recently promoted to Vice President of their Southwest subregion. Jana enjoys hiking, running, botany, birding and spending time outdoors with family and friends.


Eric Souders  / Financial Advisor

Eric is an Accredited Wealth Management Advisor at Ascendant Financial Solutions with a focus on socially responsible and fossil fuel free investing. He has been active in the community during 20 years of living in Flagstaff as a Big through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff, past board member of Flagstaff Friends of Traditional Music, Friends of Flagstaff’s Future, and Townsite Community Land Trust. As a herder of llamas, he has been the Llama Superintendent at the Coconino County Fair Since 2000 and a 4H Llama Project leader since 2006. Since their home is electrified by solar and heated by a “thermal solar/wood stove”, while their gardening ecosystem involves harvested rainwater, pest controlling chickens, and goat and llama fertilizers, one could say that sustainability is the family’s passion.



Neil Weintraub / Archaeologist, Kaibab National Forest

Neil was born in New York City and received his B.A. in Anthropology from Grinnell College, Iowa. He began his career in archaeology at the Museum of Northern Arizona in 1986. For the past 26 years, Neil has been an archaeologist for the Kaibab National Forest. He enjoys teaching his co-workers, partners, and local youth about the importance of protecting and preserving cultural resources. Since 2001, Neil has served on the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff board and mentors his little brother RJ at Willliams Elementary School. Neil also enjoys trail running and is director and co-founder of Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association.

Coconino Natural Resource Conservation District Board Members


Paul Babbitt


Reed Jenkins


Mike Macauley

Jim Parks

Jim Parks

Jim Parks

Benny Aja