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:

Prickly Pear Land Trust Staff

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.

Andrea Silverman Land Protection Coordinator

With PPLT Since: 2008

After a childhood spent roaming the outdoors of western New York State, Andrea earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and then completed a master’s of environmental management degree in resource ecology from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. After three years at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, two summers with The Nature Conservancy of Montana in the Big Hole, a year in Seattle with the King County Noxious Weed Control Program, and three years with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Andrea joined PPLT in February 2008. She loves working in private land conservation, and finding ways to connect people with the natural world around them. In her spare time, she enjoys running, skiing, horseback riding, and fly fishing with her husband, Joel.

Nate Kopp Project Manager

With PPLT Since: 2015

Nate came on board as a PPLT trail intern in April of 2015 and now serves as the project manager for PPLT’s Peaks to Creeks campaign. 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 graduating, and he spent some time working in Yosemite National Park where his passion for all things outdoors was fully realized. After doing trail and conservation work 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. When he’s not hanging out at PPLT’s Tenmile Creek Park you’ll find him with his wife Julia, and their dog Mooka out on the trails, in the woods camping, or out on the disc golf course.

Lanie White Development Manager

With PPLT Since: 2015

Hailing from the hills of the North Valley, Lanie has been a part of the greater Helena community since childhood and is excited to be doing work to promote and protect open space in the area that is most near and dear to her heart. She became interested in open space conservation during her adolescence as she watched the once beautiful and elk-filled farmland below her childhood home developed and subdivided. Lanie moved to Portland, OR in 2008 and furthered her passion for outdoor recreation and conservation when she began teaching, guiding, and coordinating the climbing gym for the Outdoor Program at Portland State University while attending classes to earn her B.A. in Spanish. After five years of city life, she decided that a more natural setting, more specifically Montana, was the superior place to reside and moved back to her hometown, later to be hired by Prickly Pear Land Trust. She is thrilled to be a part of such a hard-working and dedicated staff, board and community!

Evan Kulesa Trails Coordinator

With PPLT Since: 2017

Originally from eastern South Dakota, Evan moved to Montana in 2010 after receiving a degree in accounting from Augustana University and working as a public accountant for two years. In Montana, Evan ignited his passion for the outdoors and trails first with Montana Conservation Corps and later with the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation and U.S. Forest Service. Evan extends his love for connecting people to their landscape in his role as trails coordinator. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, biking, skiing, climbing mountains and travelling with his wife, Krystle, and cat, Tofu.

Travis Vincent Project Associate

With PPLT Since: 2017

Travis joined the PPLT crew as a project associate in late 2017. Having spent an adventurous childhood backpacking, swimming and exploring in the Flathead and Swan Valleys, he is thrilled to be back in Big Sky Country. Travis’ long road to Helena began with degrees in Russian and economics from the University of Montana. He later traveled to Russia, California, Italy, D.C. 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 from Johns Hopkins in early 2017. In his free time, he is camping, running the trails or, depending on the season, in the water.

Breena Buettner Membership and Outreach Coordinator

With PPLT Since: 2018

Breena has always been drawn to the mountains. After her childhood in Amarillo, Texas and degree in Fine Arts from the University of North Texas, she followed her inspiration from the flatlands of the panhandle to the Rocky Mountain West. A ceramic artist by trade, she found work in studios in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado before heading north to work in a pottery studio in Montana. Around the time she was scheduled to depart Montana, she spent a weekend fishing the Blackfoot, then quickly unpacked her car and called Helena “home”. Breena managed the Archie Bray Gallery here in Helena before making the move to Prickly Pear as our Membership and Outreach Coordinator. The role is a perfect fit for the young artist as it combines community engagement and opportunity for creative work. Breena still practices wheel thrown and hand-built porcelain work in her home studio when she isn’t hiking, fly fishing, floating down rivers or going downhill on her mountain bike or set of skis.

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.”

Sue McNicol Office Manager

With PPLT Since: 2018

Sue knows what Montana Communities are all about. A non-profit jack-of-all-trades, she has worked in as many different positions as groups of people she has supported and advocated for. At St. Peter’s Hospital, Sue spent 13 years in three roles – HR Generalist, Director of Admissions/Registration, and graphic artist. Her ability to connect with folks and her experience in care brought Sue to work in residential facilities for youth in crisis, and later the Montana Independent Living Project as an advocate for people with disabilities. Before making the move to head PPLT’s office, Sue completed her seventh year at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church where she managed finance, administration, and adult education. Born and raised in Great Falls, Sue graduated from Colstrip High School. She received her Bachelor of Science in Human Services from what she lovingly refers to as Eastern Montana College (now MSU-Billings). Sue packs her free time working with mixed media and fiber art, hiking, and golf, and she hasn’t missed a Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs in years. She is surrounded by friends and family and her wheaten terrier, Junee.

Callie Schultz Americorps VISTA

With PPLT Since: 2019

Growing up in Utah, Hawaii, and Michigan, and spending her youth tromping around the different ecoregions of the U.S., Callie developed a fascination for all the natural sciences, enjoying everything from geology, to marine biodiversity studies, to jumping in creeks to sample macroinvertebrates. Though her interests varied widely, she completed her degree in Biology at Mount Holyoke College. While Callie enjoyed research, she found more joy in getting others excited, interested, and informed about science and conservation. She joined PPLT in January, 2019 to develop our education programming, but her work in education began before coming to PPLT. As a marine camp counselor in Massachusetts and as a salmon culturist in Alaska, she discovered her passion for engaging youth and adults in science, and for fostering an appreciation of the outdoors and conservation. And after two years at an Alaskan hatchery accessible only by float plane, we at PPLT knew she could certainly handle Montana and would take to it like a fish culturist to water.

Prickly Pear Land Trust Board Members

John Beaver Board President

With PPLT Since: 2012

Farming, ranching, and gardening brought both John Beaver and his wife, Debra, from Medford, Oklahoma, a little town on the edge of the prairie, to Iowa, Aspen, and finally to Montana. After completing his range science degree at MSU, John moved to Helena and is now a partner at WESTECH Environmental Services, a biological consulting firm. John is the quintessential Helenan, spending his free time skiing, running, biking, hiking, hunting, and even painting. He and Deb’s daughters, Emma and Kate, both grew up exploring the outdoors around Helena and the South Hills. Of course, he has also spent years working with PPLT and serving on the board, and now he’s excited to lend his expertise and leadership in all things outdoors as our board president. It is John and PPLT’s goal to make a connection with the natural world available to everyone in our service area.

Jim Utterback Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2011

After a successful career in public accounting in Texas, Jim relocated to Montana to become a new car auto dealer. The beautiful landscape of the Big Sky Country and the opportunities to flyfish and bird hunt were the motivating factors in that decision. Jim and his wife, Cindy, have made Helena their home for almost 30 years. Their home is within a stone’s throw of the South Hills trail system promoted and maintained by PPLT. They enjoy it almost daily with their Labrador retrievers. Jim has been an active member of the Helena community and has served on many boards, including as president of the Helena Chamber of Commerce, trustee of the Montana Historical Society, director of St. Peter’s Hospital, Crimestoppers, Trout Unlimited. and was PPLT’s Board President from 2016—2019. We are grateful for his leadership and that he will remain on our board!

Sarah Jaeger Board member

With PPLT Since: 2005

Sarah came to Helena in 1985 for a residency at the Archie Bray Foundation for the ceramic arts, thinking she would be here for a year. After a two-year residency at the Bray, she decided to make Helena home. The landscape and Helena’s open space and trails played a large role in that decision. She set up a studio and has been a studio potter for the past 30 years. Her work is in public and private collections and, most important, in many kitchens throughout the country. She served on the board of directors of the Myrna Loy Center from 1990 to 1995. From 1992 to 2003, she served on the board of directors of the Archie Bray Foundation and was chair of the development committee. Since 2005, Sarah has been a member of the board of directors of the Prickly Pear Land Trust and served as president from 2010 to 2013.

Dawn North Board member

With PPLT Since: 1999

Dawn was born in Missoula and raised in Bigfork.  All of her grandparents homesteaded in Montana.  She has coached 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students for about 40 years. She also substitute teaches. In her spare time, she likes to cook, hike, travel, garden, take pictures, and design stained glass. She is an avid member of Prickly Pear Land Trust and Last Chance Public Radio. Closest to her heart are her husband, John; her border collie, Alder; her cat, Pintler; her eight chickens; 15 goldfish; sports; open space; and public radio. Dawn has been a board member of PPLT for 18 years.

Paula Jacques Board Treasurer

With PPLT Since: 2001

Paula is a native of Kansas who first learned to appreciate Montana’s open space as a kid on family vacations. When her husband headed back to pharmacy school, they chose to live in Montana and have been here ever since (not counting a couple years in Reno and one in Connecticut). Helena has been her home for the past 25 years. She is currently CPA and shareholder with the firm of Anderson ZurMuehlen and Co., P.C. and has served on the PPLT Board for several years. She is married with two children, a golden retriever and a pug – which makes for interesting hikes! She and her husband keep a sailboat on Canyon Ferry Lake and enjoy time relaxing there in the summer.

LeRoy H. Schramm Board Vice President

With PPLT Since: 2006

LeRoy (Ph.D. Cornell University, J.D. William Mitchell College of Law, M.A. State University of New York at Albany, B.A. Valparaiso University) came to Montana from Minnesota in 1978. He directed all state government labor relations as head of the Montana Labor Relations Bureau from 1978 to 1981. He then served as Chief Legal Counsel for the Montana University System and the Montana Board of Regents from 1981 to 2006.  He is currently retired and lives in Helena with his wife, Diana. He has been a member of the PPLT Board of Directors since 2006.

Erin Woodrow Board member

With PPLT Since: 2012

Erin is a South Carolina native who made her way to Montana in 2004. Erin graduated from MSU-Billings and received her MA in health promotion through the University of Alabama. She currently works as an account manager for PacificSource Health Plans. Her true passion is mountain biking and road cycling with her husband and many supportive friends. Although if you asked her, she’d tell you fat biking up the 2006 trail at night during a snowstorm is her idea of a perfect January evening after work. She is excited to be a part of the Prickly Pear Land Trust mission to preserve open space so we can always have access to the beauty our valley has to offer.

Tyrell 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.

Dennis Milburn Board member

With PPLT Since: 2014

Dennis was raised on the family homestead and worked on a variety of ranches in his youth. Shortly after graduating from college, he went to work for the U.S. Forest Service. He spent the next 32 years employed as a fire management specialist in several western states. After retiring from the Forest Service in 2004, Dennis has devoted much of his free time working as a volunteer for natural resource related organizations such as the Montana Forest Restoration Committee and the Elkhorn Restoration Committee, both groups work to promote more naturally functioning ecosystems. He also spends a lot time with the Last Chance Backcountry Horsemen helping maintain trails, bridges and cabins for the Helena National Forest. Dennis and his wife, Debbie, Helena area residents for the past 32 years, have put their conservation ethic into practice by working with the Prickly Pear Land Trust to place a conservation easement on their acreage along Sevenmile Creek.

Ed Santos Board member

With PPLT Since: 2016

Ed was born and raised in Connecticut, but came to Montana with his wife Alice in 1994. He immediately fell in love with the mountains and lakes of Helena and made it his permanent home in 1995. Ed’s conservation background goes back to his youth, and as a young adult he was very involved with the Student Conservation Association and was a member of Rails to Trails. He owned Aspen Consulting & Testing, an environmental consulting firm, for 16 years, and although he recently sold the business, he still works for the company. Air quality testing has taken Ed all over the state and the Northwest and has given him a great appreciation for the outdoor recreation in Helena. He and his wife have been involved with Prickly Pear Land Trust for over 14 years and fondly remember the first years of Harvest Moon and Don’t Fence Me In. Several years ago, Ed took to mountain biking and has become passionate about the sport ever since. He is incredibly grateful for the beautiful and plentiful trails in Helena and the surrounding areas, and is thankful that his wife and kids (Pilar and Eva) often join him in the outdoors on the weekends. Ed is excited to be on the board of such a progressive and successful organization and to contribute to the upcoming projects in any way he can.

Janet Hedges Board member

With PPLT Since: 2017

Janet was born in Missoula and lived in Billings most of her early years. She moved to Helena in 1989 where she worked for the Montana State University System for 10 years. Janet is a graduate of Carroll College with a bachelor’s degree in business management and finance. She has been in the financial service industry since January of 2000. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™,  she runs the Helena Branch of Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Growing up, her playground was centered in the Beartooth and Absaroka mountains as her family camped, rode horseback, hiked and fished almost every other weekend. She appreciates the ability to recreate in open lands and wants to make sure that option is available for future generations to come.

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.

John Doran Board Member

With PPLT Since: 2019

A native of Salem, Oregon, John Doran grew up on a baseball field. John’s talent as a switch-hitting second basemen took him to the University of Portland, where an injury to his throwing hand turned fortunate, leading him to meet his wife, Anna. After college, he began a career in journalism and coached a little college ball. Writing and editing brought the family first to Missoula, then Helena, where John took the helm as executive editor of Helena’s Independent Record. To give back to the outdoors he so immensely enjoys, John got involved with PPLT. He is a member of the former trail work group, the Trail Ninjas, and sunk scores of hours into the Waterline Trail. John is now Blue Cross Blue Shield’s VP of External Affairs and is on the trails with Anna and their two kids, Ellie and Finn, hiking, biking, or running almost everyday. He is excited to help PPLT in his new role as a board member. While incredibly grateful for PPLT’s work protecting Mount Ascension, John is also impressed with the work PPLT does to open up more access to “all outdoor enthusiasts – children, people with disabilities, or folks who might be intimidated by the steep and rough trails in the South Hills.”

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.”

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