Niki was raised in a quiet suburban town on the coast of the Long Island Sound and always found herself drawn to the wild places. She studied marine biology and environmental science at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, earning a BS in Environmental Science with minors in Biology and Chemistry in 2009. While pursuing her degree, she worked and volunteered her time at organic farms in the area surrounding the city. It was at one of those farms that she first began cultivating her interest in growing culinary mushrooms. Upon graduating, in addition to starting a business growing mushrooms for local restaurants, she worked as a field biologist for a private environmental consulting firm and as an outdoor educator, leading youth on adventures that included kayaking, backpacking, rock climbing and ropes courses. Seeking a farm of her own with more space to breathe, Niki landed on a small piece of property outside Paonia, Colorado, where she now raises sheep, pigs, turkeys, ducks, mushrooms, herbs, and vegetables with her partner, James McCain. An interest in human health and a desire to give back to her community led her to become an EMT with the North Fork Ambulance Association in 2015. She considers the proposed oil and gas development upstream of her home as a threat to her livelihood and to the existing North Fork Valley economy. She feels strongly that the community must demand responsible land use management that ensures the continued health of the local environment, the economy, and the people who live and work in this one-of-a-kind slice of paradise.

Brent Helleckson


Hailing from a Minnesota farming community, Brent has made Colorado his home for nearly 30 years.  Upon completing Bachelors and Masters degrees in Business Administration and Economics from North Dakota State University, Brent and his wife, Karen, relocated to the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.  While employed as a consultant with the Department of Commerce, and in commercial business, Brent earned a Masters and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  With a yearning to return to the land, Brent and his family resettled in the North Fork Valley to establish a vineyard and winery.  While building Stone Cottage Cellars, and raising children, Brent has remained active in the community, serving on water company and community library boards, in religious and service organizations, in local musical productions, and as a member of local and regional agricultural cooperatives.  A lifelong love of hiking, rafting, canoeing, skiing, fishing and camping, and a commitment to sustainable living and sustainable agriculture have fostered a deep appreciation of the land that is farmed, the land that is managed for multiple use, and the land that is set aside for future generations.  Brent believes that each must be done well for any to succeed.

Kari Schoonhoven


Kari grew up on a ranch near Conifer, CO where her family raised Angus beef cattle. Following her graduation from Colorado College, Kari fulfilled her desire to travel internationally by joining Pan American Airways as a flight attendant, later advancing to a management position in Pan Am’s Washington, DC office. This led her to a position with Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT), a global telecommunications company. She became Director of Customer Contracts for its mobile communications division which provided global services to the maritime, land mobile and aeronautical communities. Seeking to leave city life behind, she and her husband, Don Hepnar, moved to a small irrigated acreage on Lamborn Mesa near Paonia in 2000. Kari joined TEDX, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, as Business Administrator, when it was established by Dr. Theo Colborn in 2004. Her interest in the health effects of oil and natural gas development was activated by the research occurring at TEDX.

Brian Wegner

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Brian was raised in a small village in the dairy farming area of northeastern Wisconsin. He received a Congressional appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy in 1971 and graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1975. Commissioned an ensign, Brian embarked upon a 29 year naval career as a nuclear submariner, culminating in assignment as Commanding Officer (CO) of three submarines in the early 1990s. As CO of USS Pargo (SSN 650) he led the Navy’s first scientific expedition of the Arctic, including 23 through ice surfacings and two at the North Pole. He served his final nine years in Washington, DC in the Navy’s acquisition/program management field, including four years as major program manager of the $4B SSGN program. After retiring in October 2004, Brian provided technical and programmatic consulting services for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) submarine research programs, while deciding to leave the Washington DC rat race and returning to his childhood home of Mishicot, WI. Following retirement, he was also able to pursue his interest in travel, hiking, and environmental-related service projects with Earthwatch and the National Park Service. Brian met his true companion Cyndi Landes, from Fort Collins, in Port Stanley, The Falkland Islands, in October 2013 during an at-sea expedition to South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. Interested in escaping the increasing congestion of the Front Range and taking action to realize their dreams, including a more self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle in a small town that valued community and service, they found their paradise in a four acre Paonia farmette in June 2015.

David Inouye


David is a retired biology professor from the University of Maryland, where he taught ecology and conservation biology. He still does field research at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, near Crested Butte, where he has worked each summer since 1971. His long-term research there focuses on how the changing climate is affecting the timing and abundance of flowering by wildflowers, and how that is affecting animals like pollinating bumble bees and hummingbirds.  He has been a resident of the North Fork valley since 2015. David writes frequently about his research for newspapers and magazines, and works with organizations like the Ecological Society of America (recently as President), and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.



Kelly grew up in Grand Junction, CO, and now calls the North Fork Valley home.  He has a Bachelor’s of Biological Science degree from Mesa State.  He worked in retail management for 15 years before going into the energy industry.  His 8 years in the industry has gained him valuable knowledge and experience from the front lines. He is devoted to protecting the North Fork Valley from irresponsible resource extraction. He and his wife, Jen, are rehabilitating their land for wildlife and a few goats.

Elaine Brett

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Elaine’s experience spans clinical chemistry, corporate management and organizational development consulting. She has over thirty years experience in facilitation, strategic planning and management in commercial, non-profit and governmental sectors.  Elaine came to the North Fork Valley in 2004 and has been involved in many different businesses and organizations.  Currently, she is on the boards of The Friends of the Paradise Theatre and the Western Colorado Community Foundation.  She has a passion for local food and enjoys cycling and hiking. She wants to see our local economy thrive and survive and is committed to conserving the beautiful lands of Western Colorado.

Bill Day

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Bill has lived on the North Fork, west of Hotchkiss, since 1994. After retiring from a career as a Land Surveyor, he spent 13 seasons working for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and the Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas II. His favorite RMBO projects included searching for and monitoring Western Purple Martins, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Greater Sage-grouse, and Burrowing Owls. Bill is a graduate of Western Kentucky University and is a former board president of Black Canyon Audubon Society and Black Canyon Land Trust. He is currently a member of the Crawford Gunnison Sage-grouse Working Group, Western Colorado Congress Public Lands Committee and the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office RMP planning committee.

Bill Fritsche_web

Bill Fritsche

Bill is a long-time Colorado nomad having moved around the state on a self-defined career journey and personal quest to experience different places. He has lived in Denver, Basalt, Steamboat Springs, Idaho Springs, and Fort Collins. He and his life-partner Barbara moved to Paonia in 2015 in search of a quieter lifestyle than available on the Front Range, with less snow than Steamboat or Basalt. Bill has been practicing law for over thirty years, specializing in civil and criminal litigation.

John Gavan

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John is a board member of Delta Montrose Electric Association, Tri-State Generation and Transmission and Solar Energy International. John has nearly thirty years of general management and Information Technology experience including as: IT Manager for the Delta County Library District; Director of the Project Management Office at GXS Inc, one of the largest B2B services companies in the world; IT Manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC on a multi-year contract administered by SAIC, Inc. For eighteen years, John was a system engineering and IT director at MCI Telecommunications Corp. and later WorldCom after its acquisition of MCI.  John received a BS degree in Engineering from the State University of NY Maritime College.  He served in the US Navy aboard a guided missile destroyer as an engineering and communications officer.  John also has an MBA in Finance from NYU’s Stern School of Business. John lives in the North Fork Valley where he has designed and constructed a new house that is striving to meet a near “Net Zero” energy use profile. 

Mitch Gershten

Mitch Gershten

Dr. Gershten holds a B.S. Degree in Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology; a Master’s Degree in Pharmacology; and a Medical Degree. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and for 12 years was the owner and a practicing physician for HealthMark Center for Integrated Healing Arts. Mitch currently works as a staff physician/hospitalist, at St. Mary’s Hospital, in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he has been since 2008.

Ed Marston

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Ed has founded, published and edited newspapers in a small, western Colorado coal-mining and fruit-growing community for the past 30 years, always working with his spouse, Betsy Marston. His most recent stint was 19 years as publisher of High Country News (1983-2002), an environmental newspaper covering the 1 million square mile interior West. Before that, he and Betsy founded his town’s weekly, North Fork Times, in 1975 and ran it for six years. They also founded a regional newspaper, Western Colorado Report, in 1982, and merged it into High Country News in 1983. He is currently a re-developer of his town’s two-block downtown.

Jen Sanborn


Jen has called the North Fork Valley home for the last 4 years.  She previously lived in Rifle, CO, where she served two terms on Rifle’s City Council.  Her time on council was during the energy boom of 2001 and bust of 2008.  While on council, she experienced the challenges that face communities surrounded by the Oil & Gas industries.  While the North Fork Valley is very different from Rifle, she hopes to use her experiences as a way of protecting this valley.  She’s thrilled to be living in a rural environment where clean water and air are still a priority.

Paige Smith

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Paige has been a Wyoming resident for 35 years and she and her husband plan to retire in Paonia in the near future.  Paige has a B.S. in rangeland management and a M.S. in mine land reclamation. She spent 29 years with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) in the Land Quality, Air Quality, and Solid and Hazardous Waste Divisions dealing with coal mine permitting, effects of oil and gas drilling on air quality and the cleanup of contaminated industrial sites. She also served in a one-year temporary position as a Natural Resources Policy Analyst with Wyoming Governor Freudenthal’s administration where she was heavily involved in large-scale oil and gas developments. Paige retired from the WDEQ in 2013 and recently joined the Board of Wyoming’s only independent environmental organization, the Wyoming Outdoor Council. She is honored to participate in CHC’s efforts to protect and preserve our beautiful and unique North Fork Valley.

John VanDenBerg

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John is a widely published author and has lectured and trained in all 50 states and every province in Canada, and in other countries. He is a recently retired child psychologist and national consultant. Dr. VanDenBerg has spent his career working on de-institutionalization of children with severe emotional problems, and is one of the founders of the Wraparound Process, a method of supporting adults and children with complex needs.

Steve Wolcot

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Steve has been farming and ranching on Stucker Mesa, outside Paonia, since 1972.  He and his wife, Linda Lindsey, have three grown children, and currently raise elk and alpacas and irrigate 70 acres of hay & pasture. Steve has been a partner in several small business ventures including installing solar hot water systems, welding & fabrication of elk handling systems, making umbrellas for river rafts and manufacturing items for model railroads. Steve was a founder and long-time board member of Western Slope Environmental Resource Council and Western Slope Conservation Center where he concentrated on issues with the coal mines.  He also serves on the Upper North Fork Area Planning Committee.

Robert Wright

Robert Wright

Robert was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, and lived in Los Angeles, Missoula and Anchorage, before moving to Colorado in 2001. He has had a career in Sales and Marketing, and is founder and principle at, where he is an Internet marketing strategist, SEO Expert/Instructor, and Trusted Advisor. Robert is a Rainforest Action Network trained activist; he provides support and direct action work to Earth First, Hundredth Monkey and Anti-War/Peace movements. Robert’s hobbies include Drums/Guitar/Songwriting, MMA, Disc Golf, Gaming, Magic and Dogs.

Natasha Léger


Interim Executive Director

Natasha is serving as Interim Executive Director of Citizens For A Healthy Community (CHC). Before stepping in as Interim Executive Director, Natasha served on the CHC Board. She brings to CHC legal, location, ecosystem, and industry analysis experience. She is an international trade attorney, turned independent business consultant, turned editor of a location intelligence magazine, turned author of Travel Healthy: A Road Warrior’s Guide to Eating Healthy. She believes that clean air, water, soils, and nouri (the new word to describe what we should be eating for optimum health) are a basic human right. She will be managing the day-to-day operations of CHC until a new permanent Executive Director is found.

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Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson

Associate Program Director

Andrew comes to CHC as an attorney specializing in water, environmental conservation, and public lands, having previously worked at the American Alpine Club on their conservation and advocacy team. Growing up on a farm in southeastern Minnesota, he understands the need to keep our air and water clean and protect healthy ecosystems. When he isn’t working hard to protect our lands and water, he can be found exploring Colorado’s beautiful mountains with his dogs. An avid hiker, he was introduced to climbing while pursuing his law degree at the University of Wyoming, thus expanding his connection to and passion for the environment. He is very excited to be working with CHC on a range of issues affecting the North Fork Valley.

Kyle Tisdel


Legal Counsel

Kyle has been representing CHC since 2012 in administrative and legal actions. Kyle joined Western Environmental Law Center as a staff attorney in 2011 and is the Climate & Energy Program director. He focuses on protecting the West’s environment and communities from the harms of oil and gas development. He previously practiced law in Washington and Colorado where his work focused on environmental, land use, and real property issues. Kyle received a B.A. in international relations from Michigan State University and earned his law degree from Vermont Law School. Find out why we are so fortunate to have Kyle on our team and Learn why Kyle is dedicated to defending the West

Marissa Mommaerts


Project Assistant

She also serves as Director of Programs for Transition US, a network of communities transitioning away from fossil fuel dependence toward local resilience. She previously worked for the Post Carbon Institute and The Aspen Institute on communications projects related to sustainable development. Marissa has a Master’s Degree in International Public Affairs from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she co-founded a sustainable development project in partnership with UW students and an island community in Lake Victoria, Uganda. She is also a writer ( and speaker on the topics of community resilience and sustainable global development, as well as an avid gardener, homesteader, community organizer, and activist.

Brenda Joyce Coda


Membership Coordinator

Brenda Joyce Coda came to the North Fork Valley the summer of 2011, settling in Crawford that fall. Within a month, she learned about the BLM proposed leasings for oil and gas development in the NFV, and attended the public meetings. CHC was the first local organization to which she donated, volunteered, and became a member in order to stay informed, about news and how to participate in decisions of public land use. Spring of 2015, she offered her administrative services after learning there had been no one helping the Executive Director for several months. Brenda Joyce sees this part-time work as a way to directly contribute and continue her involvement with the work of CHC. She is responsible for the behind the scenes work related to our membership program.