Our Story

Prickly Pear Land Trust is committed to the belief that open space is essential to the well-being of all communities. Spacious views, abundant wildlife, and recreational opportunities renew and revitalize our spirits. Maintaining traditional agricultural lands preserves Montana’s cultural heritage. At Prickly Pear Land Trust, we seek to preserve and protect the rural character of the Prickly Pear Valley and adjoining lands in Lewis and Clark, Jefferson, Broadwater and Powell counties through voluntary and cooperative means. Further, we strive to connect people to their natural surroundings though trails and access to public lands.

Our Mission

To inspire connections to the landscapes, water, wildlife, recreation and agricultural heritage of west-central Montana through conservation, now and for future generations.

Our Core Values

In support of our mission, the core values of Prickly Pear Land Trust define our organizational culture:

  • Support the enhancement and restoration of conservation values of strategically identified lands.
  • Protect and steward strategically identified open spaces in perpetuity.
  • Provide easy trail access and open spaces that interconnect our community for all to enjoy.
  • Provide information to the community on resource conservation and open space issues.
  • Conduct and communicate our business with openness and integrity.
  • Be responsive to, representative of, and in service to our community, or, serve those in our community who have interests in open space and conservation.
  • Instill a connection with the land that fosters its permanent protection.

Prickly Pear Land Trust Staff

Collin Ahlmeier Trails Coordinator

With PPLT Since: 2024

Born and raised in Huntingburg, Indiana, Collin spent his youth watching movies, goofing around with friends, and working in the family restaurant. Collin played in bands and worked as a radio DJ before graduating from the University of Kentucky with dual degrees in economics and business. One day in sales convinced Collin that he wasn’t cut out for a desk job. He took a volunteer position with American Conservation Experience and gained historical restoration to carpentry skills on a variety of projects. He worked up to a crew lead position in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. In 2022, he joined the Montana Conservation Corps in the Central Divide region. When he’s not outdoors, Collin enjoys movies, disc golf, 90s punk, and filling in whenever someone needs a bass player.

Sherry Berrin Stewardship Manager

With PPLT Since: 2022

Sherry moved to Helena in 2017 bringing with her over 20 years experience in the conservation field including working as a Land Steward for the Deschutes Land Trust in Bend, Oregon and as a Natural Resource Specialist for the Winooski Valley Park District in Vermont. While she spent most of her childhood on the Great Lakes in Michigan, a brief stint in Colorado after college had her falling in love with the mountains. She and her family are happy to call Montana home now. Sherry will be splitting her time working as the Stewardship Manager for PPLT and for the Montana Natural Heritage Program as the Zoology/Botany Data Specialist. As the Land Steward in Oregon, she gained valuable experience working with private landowners, monitoring both Land Trust properties and conservation easements. In her free time, Sherry enjoys exploring Montana with her husband, daughter, and two dogs!

Rebecca Dudek Associate Development Director

With PPLT Since: 2021

A Pennsylvania native, Rebecca’s love for Helena and its wide-open spaces began when she was a little girl. She spent her summers visiting family in Montana and always felt a close connection to Helena, the people, and the beautiful landscape surrounding the town. Her dream of leaving the East Coast and calling Helena “home” became reality in 2015 when she was offered the Children’s Miracle Network Manager position at Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena, Montana. During her time at Shodair, Rebecca gained nearly seven years’ worth of experience in the nonprofit sector and helped grow the hospital’s fundraising through education, advocacy, and stewardship.

Because of her love and connection to the landscape, trails, and recreational opportunities around Helena, Rebecca jumped at the opportunity to join PPLT as the Associate Development Director. In this role, she will oversee the organization’s fundraising efforts and will continue to grow connections between PPLT and its community and statewide supporters.

Mary Hollow Executive Director

With PPLT Since: 2015

As a fifth-generation Montanan and outdoor enthusiast, Mary has long been connected to the lands and waters of Big Sky Country. She holds University of Montana degrees in business finance and economics. She began her career in the U.S. Senate and later for a housing organization in Washington, D.C. Upon her return to Montana, Mary ran a fishing lodge in the Blackfoot Valley. Inspired to further conservation efforts, Mary then went to work for The Nature Conservancy during their acquisitions of Plum Creek Timber land in western Montana. For nearly 10 years she managed land deals and served as the Government Affairs Director for TNC in Montana. Mary joined the PPLT staff in 2015 as executive director. Connecting people with conservation values and the outdoors in our urban communities is a key goal for Prickly Pear Land Trust and a personal interest for Mary.

Nate Kopp Program & Trails Director

With PPLT Since: 2015

Nate came on board as a PPLT trail intern in April of 2015 and currently serves as the Program and Trails Director overseeing PPLT’s Community Conservation program. He hails from a small town in western New York and studied geography and environmental studies at the State University of New York at Geneseo. The wild places called him west after graduation, and he spent some time working in Yosemite National Park where his passion for all things outdoors was fully realized. After implementing trail and conservation projects across California, from Big Sur to the Sierra Nevadas, and in the green mountains of Vermont to the coastal jungles of North Carolina, he found his way to Montana. You’ll find him with his family (and dog Mooka) out on the trails, in the woods camping, or out on the disc golf course.

Tim Lawrence Trails and Parks Manager

With PPLT Since: 2021

Tim has been doing trail work for nearly ten years. He studied liberal arts and history at Beloit College in Wisconsin, graduating in 2012. Since then he spent several of his trail seasons in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex with the Montana Conservation Corps and the Forest Service. He’s happy to be doing trail work in this great state, for this unique trail system. When he isn’t on the trails he is in the kitchen or on the porch with a book.

Kevin League Lands Project Manager

With PPLT Since: 2021

Kevin has a long career in land protection. Before joining PPLT, Kevin spent 20 years in conservation, working for the National Park Service, two Land Trusts in Colorado, and the State of Montana. A thoughtful, curious and motivated protector of wild places, Kevin grew up exploring the mountains of southern Appalachia. It wasn’t until after high school, when he spent working away in Glacier National Park, that he decided to dive head first into conservation. And of course, Kevin doubles as an accomplished nature photographer and likes to share his images at his gallery in downtown Helena. In his free time he enjoys exploring Montana and the western United States with his wife and daughter.

Lucas Orth Parks Coordinator

With PPLT Since: 2024

Lucas spent the first part of his life in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he earned an associate’s degree in automotive technology. In Fort Collins, Colorado, he taught automotive repair at the local community college and worked on wildland fire crews for Larimer County and Yellowstone National Park. He returned to Nebraska and built a land management business from the ground up, specializing in the removal of invasive trees and shrubs from grasslands and prairies. In 2023, Lucas’s wife Tatiana accepted a job in Helena and they jumped on the opportunity to get back to the west. Most evenings and weekends, you’ll find Lucas, Tatiana, and their dog Junebug hiking, biking, or running the local trails. On the rare occasions when Lucas isn’t outside, he is probably in his garage trying to breathe new life into a vintage truck or motorcycle. Lucas has a deep appreciation for public lands and open spaces and the need to protect them, thanks in part to his childhood in a state that is 97% privately owned. He is very excited to be part of the Prickly Pear team.

Emmett Purcell Trails Assistant

Emmett was born and raised in Helena. He attended Montana State University, where he was on the alpine ski race team and eventually became an assistant ski coach. He continued ski coaching with the Great Divide Ski Team, leading to a career spanning various roles in the ski, bike and trail worlds. He has been moving dirt and exploring and building trails since his high school years, when mountain biking was in its infancy. He and his friends explored old routes that had not seen much travel over the years and cleaned them up. Emmett says: “I feel very fortunate to live in a great trails community and to be able to cobble together a life that includes bikes, skis, trails and yoga.”

Rachel Rountree Associate Director

With PPLT Since: 2020

An avid hiker, runner and outdoor enthusiast, Rachel fell in love with Helena after visiting in 2014. Drawn to the kind people, family-friendly community and beautiful nature, she and her family made the big move to Helena in the spring of 2020 to work for PPLT. She is a seasoned professional with over 15 years of experience in nonprofit management, fundraising and political fields. The first few years of her career she navigated the nonprofit and political worlds before she became a political fundraiser, working with clients from all over the world. After four years of intense travel, she decided to follow her passion for the outdoors and joined The Trail Foundation in Austin, Texas, as their Development Director. For six years she helped to grow and build the organization to meet the needs of the most visited urban green space in Central Texas. Rachel enjoys devoting her career to the outdoors, protecting natural spaces and encouraging people to go outside. A skilled communicator, Rachel thrives at being able to listen to input, facilitate, and creatively overcome challenges to achieve goals. As the Associate Director for PPLT, Rachel will oversee the daily operations and future needs of the organization.

Sarah Ryan Communications and Development Manager

With PPLT Since: 2024

Sarah Ryan grew up in Chicago, but fell in love with the West during family trips to New Mexico. She lived in Fort Collins, Colorado, for 18 years and moved to Helena in 2020. She’s worked and volunteered in education, advocacy, fundraising, and nonprofit communications for two decades. Sarah enjoys trail running, mountain biking, backpacking, rafting, and skiing with her friends and family. She loves telling stories that open hearts and minds.

Renae Schulte Bookkeeper

With PPLT Since: 2022

Renae is a Montana native and a dedicated wife and mother of five. With a deep love for the outdoors, she finds joy in hiking, running, yoga, and treasured family moments in Montana’s beautiful landscapes. Her academic journey led her to Carroll College on a basketball scholarship, where she majored in accounting and minored in business administration. The first chapter of her career was spent at Mountain West Bank, where she dedicated 12 years to the world of finance and business. However, her heart called her home to raise her family. Together with her husband, they owned and operated The Bagel Company in Helena for nearly 22 years, serving their community with delicious, handcrafted bagels and fresh roasted coffee. As her children grew, she re-entered the workforce with a new mission. She is deeply involved in the nonprofit sector, where she continues to make a positive impact on the community. Her journey from finance to entrepreneurship and ultimately to nonprofit work has been a fulfilling one, and she looks forward to the exciting opportunities the future holds.

Audra Shropshire Education Coordinator

With PPLT Since: 2023

Audra Shropshire came to Helena with her husband Bill Shropshire in the early 90’s to visit family. They spent their time hiking Mt. Helena, floating the Missouri, and enjoying local attractions. As Bill’s career progressed they spent more time in Montana and eventually moved here in 2012 with their children Ella, Maya, and Will. Audra grew up near the Great Lakes and spent most summers in the woods of The Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Her love for dirt roads, open spaces, and clear lakes was born there. She received her Elementary Education degree from the University of Wisconsin, minoring in Geography and Environmental Education. Her Master’s degree in Educational Administration came from Loyola University Chicago. Across 22 years, Audra has taught grades 8th,5th,3rd, and Pre-K With each age group she worked to get her classes outdoors. She taught third grade in a progressive school where each classroom had a courtyard for learning that backed up to a woodland park. Here she realized the benefits of nature’s classroom. She looks forward to sharing these discoveries and connecting land and people in the greater Helena area.

Travis Vincent Lands Director

With PPLT Since: 2017

Having spent an adventurous childhood backpacking, swimming and exploring in the Flathead and Swan Valleys, Travis is thrilled to be home, working in Big Sky Country. His long circle back to the state began with the study of languages and economics at the University of Montana. From there he traveled to Russia, California, Italy, and Namibia to work and study, camping along the way. With a wildlife and open-space career in mind, Travis earned a policy and economics master’s degree with a concentration in environmental affairs in Washington, D.C. He finally escaped the city and made his way home to the mountains in and has spent the last few years working on PPLT lands projects. In his free time, he is camping, running the trails or out with his wirehair hunting birds.

Emily Winn Content Creator

With PPLT Since: 2024

Emily grew up in Helena with a love for the outdoors. She graduated from Montana State University in 2016 with a degree in Elementary Education. She lived, worked and played in Bozeman for 8 years. In 2020, she moved to Spokane, Washington where she worked with youth mentorship programs. During this time, she found a passion for helping nonprofits create brand awareness and volunteer recruitment campaigns. She’s excited to be back home and a first time aunt! The outdoors is her happy place, whether it’s camping, hiking, kayaking or walking her dog, Arlo. She also enjoys baking, photography, plants and being creative!

Natalie Yocum Land Manager

With PPLT Since: 2024

Natalie grew up in Arlee, Montana, and she spent summers in Polebridge, kayaking and indulging in huckleberry bear claws. She learned to respect the land and found a deep appreciation for nature. Natalie graduated from Carroll College with an environmental science degree. She’s worked for Gardenwerks Flower Farm, Montana Conservation Corps, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. She loves creating spaces for the community to enjoy and respect the outdoors. Natalie is a member of the Big Sky Watershed Corps.

Prickly Pear Land Trust Board Members

Nicole Anderson Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2022

Raised in the Pacific Northwest, Nicole is proud to have had the opportunity to call Central Washington home. Nicole’s journey to Montana was driven by her thirst for any type of adventure and desire to be a part of a community that values relationships and hard work. After a few years in Bozeman as a young professional, Nicole and her husband Chance settled in Helena. Of all the places she has lived, Helena is her favorite town she has ever had the pleasure of calling home. Nicole is an Architect with SMA Architecture + Design focusing on commercial design of all scales in a variety of market sectors including multifamily, civic, healthcare, and higher education. Outside the office, Nicole spends her time experimenting in the kitchen, hiking Montana’s picturesque trails with their chocolate lab Chevy, and traveling all over our beautiful country. Most recently she has taken up skiing, which has proven to be one of her biggest adventures yet.

Pam Bucy Board President

With PPLT Since: 2020

Pam was born and raised in Townsend, Montana. It took only a short stint of city living to convince her that fresh air and wide-open spaces were a necessary ingredient for her happiness and success. She has been incredibly fortunate to live and work only 30 miles from where she grew up, surrounded by her large family. She is an attorney by trade and has had a wide variety of legal positions in both the private sector and state government. She currently serves as the Chief Discipline Counsel for the State of Montana. When not at work, you will find her with her family, Mark, Errol, Emma and Quinn and their two dogs, Piper and Daisy, hiking, boating, and exploring Montana.

Betsy Burns Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2024

Betsy grew up fishing, skiing and hiking in Colorado. She’s called  Clancy, Montana, home for the last 30 years. She earned degrees in geology and environmental policy and management and worked for 38 years in air quality and as a Superfund project manager. She finished her career working on the East Helena smelter site, where she developed a passion for the community and land. She is excited to work with Prickly Pear Land Trust on the East Helena Greenway project. She also volunteers with the Myrna Loy, Special Olympics, and the Prickly Pear Land Trust education program. Since retirement, she’s been busy traveling, camping in her RV, hiking with her dog, Casey, and enjoying the Last Best Place.

Marly Ellis Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2023

Marly grew up in central Ohio, roaming the Hocking Hills and the shores of Lake Erie with her two younger sisters. Her career took her to Chicago and then New York City, where she spent the last two decades helping to build brands and digital businesses and traveling in relentless pursuit of nature and open spaces. Marly’s family brought her to Helena. She and her husband (a Helena native) are raising their three young boys here, and are wildly grateful to call the Prickly Pear Valley home. Marly is excited to bring her over 20 years of experience in marketing, strategy, and creative storytelling to PPLT. On weekends she is outside exploring with her kids or reading books.

Jeannie Etchart Board member

With PPLT Since: 2020

Jeannie is a fourth generation Montanan from a well-known and respected ranching family in Northeastern Montana.  She grew up in Helena and later went on to attend the University of Notre Dame, graduating with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 2006.  Following graduation, Jeannie moved to Washington, DC where she held multiple political, event-planning and fundraising positions including at The White House, United States Senate and The Prince of Wales Foundation.  In December 2015, Jeannie moved back to her dear hometown of Helena. She always knew she wanted to return to her beloved Montana and is happy to be back to her roots and a part of the wonderful and thriving community.  Jeannie recently formed her own event planning business, Etchart Events LLC, to assist the area with planning, coordinating and executing a variety of functions. She is also very involved in the community and serves on the Boards of the Helena Area Community Foundation, Carroll College Saints Athletic Association, Green Meadow Country Club, St. Peter’s Health Foundation and most recently PPLT. Jeannie enjoys many things Helena and the surrounding areas have to offer such as skiing, golfing, rafting and hiking Mount Helena and is excited to join the PPLT Board and help further their mission to help preserve the beautiful public lands we are so lucky to get to call home!

Eliza Frazer Board Secretary

With PPLT Since: 2017

Eliza first fell in love with Montana as a teenager, enchanted by the brilliant stones sparkling in the rivers (not at all like Pittsburgh’s), the unimaginable space and the smell of sagebrush. She came often to ski, fish and bird hunt, and finally moved to Helena in 1992. The move “home” to Montana was delayed by a BA at Wesleyan, an MBA at the University of Chicago, and a dozen years of desk jobs, mostly in finance. In Helena, she has been on the boards of several nonprofits including the Holter Museum and the Montana chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Eliza and her husband Barry Hood are thankful to have raised their son, Jack, in Helena. They continue to enjoy Montana’s outdoors most every day.

Tyrrell Hibbard Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2013

Tyrrell enjoyed an agricultural upbringing in a generational ranch family where work and recreation often coincided. Montana’s rich character, natural bounty, and historic working landscapes inspired Tyrrell to expand on his background and pursue conservation on a scale larger than his family’s ranch. He joined Western Sustainability Exchange where he has worked in market-based conservation through sustainable agriculture. Recently, the Helena native has begun adding value to Montana agriculture commodities by distilling fine spirits, as a proprietor of Gulch Distillers. When not ranching, distilling, or developing markets for farmers and ranchers, Tyrrell chooses to enjoy the outdoors with his wife and two young daughters, usually skiing, hunting, mountain biking, or fishing. He has every intention to preserve these opportunities for his community, his daughters, and the generations after them.

Jill Lloyd Board Treasurer

With PPLT Since: 2023

Jill Lloyd is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). The road to becoming a CPA is something she fought by exclaiming “I don’t want to wear a black suit and have people think I’m boring!” So in addition to her business classes, she enrolled in MTB101 and informed her parents she needed a mountain bike for school.

Professionally, Jill has spent her recent years working at professional associations. She has grown her expertise in nonprofit accounting, Federal grant management, human capital management, and lobbying regulations.

Jill became involved with Prickly Pear Land Trust (PPLT) when she attended a family hike hosted by PPLT. Her family of four still enjoys hikes, though 50% of the family would prefer to always be on a bike, 25% could go either way, and the remaining 25% is hiking only.

Jill is excited to join the PPLT board and share her professional knowledge, joy of community, and commitment to land conservation and accessibility for all.

Aidan Myhre Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2024

Aidan Myhre is a fourth-generation Montanan dedicated to community service and keeping up with her very active family. Aidan has served on twelve boards in the arts, social services, healthcare, and public lands. In addition to her inspiring service record, Aidan brings over 25 years of professional experience in strategic communications and legislative and regulatory affairs to PPLT’s board. She loves Helena’s trails and enjoys hiking, biking, and backcountry skiing on public lands.

Mike Roberts Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2024

Mike Roberts was born in Hamilton, Montana, and schooled at both Montana State University and the University of Montana. Mike has spent nearly four decades years in Helena, working with the citizens of Montana on water issues and enjoying the great outdoors. A retired state hydrologist, Mike volunteers water resources expertise to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Trout Unlimited, and Prickly Pear Land Trust. His passion for open space in was fueled by the efforts to preserve the north slopes of Mt. Ascension during the Timberline Subdivision proposal in the late nineties. When not volunteering for good causes or working on his 130-year-old house with his wife Shannon, Mike can be found running, skiing, floating, biking, fishing, and hunting Montana’s great landscapes or providing the soundtrack at local venues with his band Darkhorse.

Joe Schmechel Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2024

Joe comes from a long line of Montanans, with his roots in Butte. He has lived in every corner of the state, from his childhood on the mean streets of Billings to working as a lifty in Red Lodge, digging dinosaurs in Fort Peck, and leading hikes in Glacier. Joe received his B.A in History from the University of Montana and his M.S. in Environmental Engineering from Montana Tech. These days, Joe and his wife Sarah own and operate the Western and Gold Bars on Last Chance Gulch, where they make sure no Helenians go thirsty. In his free time, Joe is an avid hunter, dog walker, splitboarder, and mountain biker. Joe is passionate about open lands, wildlife management, and flowy single track.

Bill Shropshire Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2019

A life-long visitor to Helena, Bill Shropshire and his family finally became full-time residents in early 2013. Bill began his visits in 1976, first to see family, but later to explore. It became a life goal to live here. He has worked for American Chemet Corp. since he left the trading floors of the Chicago Board of Trade in 1998.  As Bill’s responsibilities at American Chemet increased, so did the frequency of his visits to Helena and East Helena. By 2013, Bill and his wife of 20 years, Audra, decided: “Hey, let’s go live there”! Bill and Audra have been PPLT supporters since their arrival, and are delighted they and their three kids, Ella, Maya, and Will, get to call Helena home. A long-time skier and cyclist, Bill’s road bike has been feeling increasingly neglected as he spends more and more time on fatter, knobbier tires. Bill is honored to serve on the board, noting he loves not only the trails and conservation efforts, but that Prickly Pear stays true to its motto of “connecting land and people.”

John Tietz Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2020

John moved to Montana from Colorado in 1977 when his father accepted a job at Montana State University. After graduating from Bozeman High School and MSU, John moved to Seattle, Washington to pursue a career in environmental remediation & consulting. In 2001, John decided he needed a new adventure, and enrolled at Seattle University School of Law. After graduating in 2004, John and his wife Leah and son Bridger moved to Helena so John could join the law firm of Browning, Kaleczyc, Berry & Hoven, PC, where his practice focuses water rights, land use, and environmental law. John became involved in protecting Montana’s open lands when he joined the Heritage Lands Working Group, an ad hoc committee established by the City of Helena, Lewis and Clark County, and PPLT to make recommendations to the L&C County Commission regarding options to preserve the county’s heritage working lands. John subsequently served on the county’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Open Lands, which provides guidance to the County Commission on the funding of conservation projects under the county’s Open Lands Program. When he is not riding his bike, John can be found skiing, backpacking, canoeing, or hiking somewhere in Montana’s public open lands.

Willis Yarberry Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2023

Willis spent the last twenty-five years in conservation with stints at The Nature Conservancy, Western Rivers Conservancy, and Ecosystem Investment Partners, a mitigation banking firm. He specialized in land transactions and federal lobbying for appropriations in his years in conservation. Prior to that, he spent the first twelve years of his career in commercial real estate banking. He enjoys fly fishing, camping, bird hunting, snowboarding, and mountain biking. And with more time on his hands since his retirement in late 2021, he has gone completely bonkers over saltwater fly fishing.

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