ACRES board members govern the organization, providing oversight and strategic direction.
Dawn Ritchie, President
Brittany Hall, Vice President
Mark Maffey, Vice President
Dan Ernst, Secretary
Veronica Mertz, Treasurer
Chris Fairfield, Recording Secretary
ACRES staff members ensure the protection of this land every day.
Jason loves nature, and in particular, trees. At the age of five he declared that his life’s vocation would be caring for trees. He stayed true to this vision by earning degrees in forestry and ministry, serving as curator of trees for the North Carolina Zoo, and natural resources administrator for the City of Indianapolis. In 2006 he became ACRES executive director, which means he ensures ACRES land, funds, members, volunteers and employees receive the attention and resources they need to thrive.
Jason’s favorite preserves are the ones that have been undisturbed the longest. Preserves with a century or more of time to function undisturbed provide a glimpse into the unique, healthy and diverse systems that Forever will offer all ACRES properties.
Jason appreciates the reminder by Abraham Lincoln of the enduring quality of land: “Laws change; people die; the land remains.”
Working in the field, Jenna cares for the land ACRES protects. Her hands-on role includes non-native invasive species control, ecological restoration and trail maintenance.
Jenna’s love of the outdoors started as a kid. Together with her family, she enjoyed camping, hiking, paddling and rafting.
“Most of our vacations were in the outdoors.”
In high school, Jenna learned that she had a knack for identifying trees when she joined FFA and began participating in forestry and wildlife. The experience influenced her chosen course of study at the University of Saint Francis, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental science with a minor in biology.
Jenna comes to ACRES from IDNR Division of Nature Preserves, where she learned the basics of non-native, invasive species management. She has a passion for land restoration and loves to see natural areas thrive. Seeing native species diversity return after an area is cleared of invasive species makes her work rewarding.
“It’s exciting when you clear out an area and get rid of those invasives, and native plants pop up. It was in the seedbank, and it’s coming back.”
Heather wants to know why you protect land. From donor cultivation to writing grants, she listens to your dreams and goals for investing in this work. She pays careful attention, because her job is to connect you to possibilities to realize your personal aspirations with ACRES Land Trust.
“From a very young age, I was instinctively drawn to trees. Even in the dead of winter, I could be found high up in a tree, book in hand, taking in a bird’s-eye-view of the natural world. I spent most of my childhood with my feet firmly planted in the canopy and I continue to find solace in natural settings.”
Her fondest memory is of walking trails with her daughter, then a toddler, listening to leaves rustling in the wind and imagining the secrets the trees were sharing of everything they had seen throughout their decades, sometimes centuries, of existence: Settlement, storms, development and all the creatures who lived among and enjoyed the company of trees, themselves included.
Heather’s early work experience in customer service opened a door into the world of philanthropy and continues to provide the foundation for her passion for working with members and donors. Her position with ACRES is the perfect marriage of her personal core values of preserving natural areas and her experience as a professional fundraiser.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” –John Muir
Jenna has a reverence for nature that she attributes to her Native American heritage as well as values instilled by her mother. She was raised to regard the earth as sacred and to appreciate the interconnection of people and the land. “Nature is where we can find peace. It’s where life comes from and eventually returns to.”
As office manager, she stewards ACRES’ financial and human resources, ensuring that our mission to protect land is carried out effectively.
She loves spending time outside with her husband and their daughters. The family lives in rural Huntertown, where they enjoy gardening and exploring the woods in their backyard. As a parent, she’s passionate about protecting land so it can be shared with future generations. “We’re raising two children here; it’s very personal.”
Jenna earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy from Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne and a master’s degree in environmental health from the University of Saint Francis. Her professional background is in environmental health and safety; she has experience ensuring compliance in industry and higher education.
She first gained experience at ACRES as an office intern in 2012. A decade later, she was excited to see an opportunity to return to the organization. “It’s a great mission and a great group of people. I wanted to remain a part of it.”
Evan ensures ACRES land is protected and well cared for. Leading the stewardship team, he deploys resources where they are needed across our 27-county service area. From habitat restoration to non-native invasive species management, Evan implements stewardship plans that allow our natural areas to thrive.
From a very early age Evan was fascinated by the complexity of nature.
“I grew up chasing frogs and snakes in my grandparents’ pond and building forts in the neighbor’s woods. I never imagined then that I could have a career doing such similar things.”
Evan’s background in wildlife and habitat management is rooted in a Wildlife degree from Purdue University. Twice a summer intern with ACRES, he also acquired wildlife experience with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
“My favorite ACRES preserve would have to be Spurgeon. The wetlands, topography, old growth trees, and species diversity that this preserve has to offer puts it at the top of my list. One of my fondest memories in a preserve, though, happened in Evelyn and Wendell Dygert Nature Preserve. I had found a great spot to eat my lunch and was biting into an apple when I spotted a fox not 30 yards away trotting towards me. It came within 15 yards, looked up at me, and then disappeared into its den.”
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” –John Muir
Gavin takes pride in protecting land for future generations. As a member of the stewardship team, he works to control the spread of non-native invasive species, restore habitat and maintain trails.
Early experiences in nature shaped Gavin’s appreciation for land and his desire to protect it.
“I was really fortunate growing up. A lot of my memories are out in the woods. Our family used to cut firewood to heat our house. During the warmer seasons, many vacations were spent traveling to different parks in Indiana and outside the state.”
He brings a wealth of experience from his work with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, including roles at Ouabache State Park and Upper Wabash Interpretive Services.
As an avid free diver, scuba diver, hunter and fisherman, Gavin is passionate about responsible stewardship. He wants future generations to have the same opportunities to enjoy these experiences in the outdoors.
“When treated correctly, natural resources can be replenished, but if we don’t treat them right, they could be gone forever.”
Reena connects people with ACRES mission through engaging, firsthand experiences. From wetland floats to wildflower hikes, she loves to share the places we protect. Reena oversees ACRES volunteer program, welcoming new volunteers and retaining our established crew.
Reena’s family would often travel to national parks on vacations, inspiring her to get involved in the environmental science field. She believed beauty was in “other places” like mountainous parks and seaside sanctuaries. Reena participated in the ACRES land management internship for three summers, and through Goshen College classes got to explore a lot of northeast Indiana. Her perception of local land changed through these experiences.
“I had really underestimated the Indiana landscape — both the extent to which non-native invasive plants have taken over our forests and lands and also the inspiring native beauty that I had missed.”
Discovering the redeeming qualities of the Hoosier landscape and the people who help protect it convinced her to stay in the area and give back.
“I often feel like land in the Midwest is overlooked and undervalued,” said Ramos. “If I was doing that, as someone who says she values natural places, I know it’s common. I’m motivated to help people see the beauty in this land that they might not have seen. I want to give people that ‘wow’ moment. I am very excited to be a part of a team that has the same values as I do, and I hope to make a difference in our local region.”
Elijah wants to tell everyone about the mission of ACRES. He oversees all things communications: Managing the website, cultivating community through social media accounts, and telling stories of ACRES priceless members, volunteers and the lands it works hard to protect.
His love for nature started after a trip to the High Sierras.
“I was lucky enough to spend a week in a lodge in the mountains of California. My soul was stirred there, and my love for the outdoors truly took root.”
Elijah comes to ACRES after having wrapped up ten years of work as the Communication Director for a non-profit in his hometown of Columbia City. There, he refined his communication skills, honed his graphic design ability and learned to tell the story that everyone has inside of them.
“I’m excited to tell the stories of ACRES and the people whose work is leaving a lasting impact in our region and providing hope for future generations.”
Ben oversees a wide range of projects to ensure the business of protecting land gets done. This work includes contract management, due diligence for land acquisitions, stewardship projects and visitor amenities installations. He works closely with community partners to build relationships across our 27-county service area.
Growing up in Winamac, Indiana, Ben enjoyed fishing on the Tippecanoe River and spending time at nearby Tippecanoe River State Park. After learning how environmental pressures can affect these places, he felt called to devote his career to protecting natural areas.
Ben went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and biology from Butler University and a master’s degree in forestry and natural resources from Purdue University before serving as a consulting forester and as a watershed project manager for Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District.
He felt drawn to ACRES because its mission strongly aligns with his own values.
“The best thing we can do for the environment is protect land. Protecting land along rivers can protect from pollution and erosion. Protecting forest can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide habitat.”
Janelle supports ACRES development, outreach and communication efforts.
Janelle has been connected to ACRES Land Trust since 2006. She enjoys nature for various reasons: peace, social outings, spiritual devotion, education, and physical wellness. Over the years, she’s found joy in sharing ACRES preserves with her family, four children and friends. With grandchildren now in the family, ACRES outings will continue for a new generation.
In 2017, Janelle expanded her joy of introducing others to the preserves by volunteering for ACRES by leading caravan hike events–driving and hiking from one preserve to another in a single outing. “Through the years, I have observed that the mission of ACRES brings people together from all ages and from all perspectives into a common mission.”
A few of Janelle’s repeated treks to ACRES preserves include: the frozen waterfalls at Hathaway, viewing the eagles at Kokiwanee and Seven Pillars, the diversity of wildflowers at Kokiwanee and Spurgeon, the Blue Eyed Marys at Dygert, overlooking the canyon at Robb Hidden Canyon, the pines at Ruth Kern Preserve, the clear water of Fawn River Preserve, and a memorable time when the Kinglet birds flitted next to Janelle’s shoulders while walking along the creek at Bicentennial. “I consider all ACRES properties gems of Northeast Indiana!”
Janelle has previously worked for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department and the Pokagon State Park Nature Center. In 2020-2021, she and her husband had the opportunity to live and work in Northern Minnesota along Lake Superior’s shore and then in the snowy Sierra Mountains of Northern California. Experiencing the land and wildlife in those areas has been a highlight in Janelle’s life.
“I believe the mission of ACRES Land Trust is crucial and I am thankful and honored to assist in preserving land in our community and beyond.”
Volunteers serve ACRES in many ways. A few folks serve in weekly office roles.
Dave Brumm, Office Facilities
Mary Anna Feitler, Membership Secretary
Louise Pomeroy, Administrative Volunteer