Abby Polakoff (she/her)
Program & Operations Coordinator
Abby was born and raised in the farm country of northern Maryland, where she spent lots of time catching critters, climbing trees, and getting very muddy in streams. She knew from a very young age that she was passionate about pursuing a career in the outdoors, partially from how much she loved her Gulch trips as a trekker. In 2019, she graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in Outdoor Experiential Education and a minor in Leadership Studies. Since then, Abby has worked with kiddos in many different regions of the country facilitating programs focused around community building, wilderness skills, and adventure education. She first worked at the Gulch in 2019 as trek staff and on the operations team, and has popped in and out of the Gulch community ever since. Now working for the Gulch full time, she is excited to call Albuquerque home. You will rarely find Abby without her pup Oakley, who accompanies her on all sorts of adventures. This dynamic duo enjoys exploring the city, playing frisbee, and spending lots of time with their new Gulch family.
Andrew Pearson (he/him)
Director of Operations
Andrew was born in Papua New Guinea but called Pennsylvania home for about 15 years before falling in love with the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where he spent a few years leading canoe trips, running a high ropes course, and eating cheese curds. He’s now beyond excited to call New Mexico home! His educational background in engineering has equipped him with a broad set of skills to repair, maintain, and optimize all of the operational systems at Cottonwood Gulch. When he’s not fixing Gulch trucks, Andrew loves repairing and riding motorcycles, restoring old machinery, exploring the desert on his bicycle, and collecting way more books than he could ever read in a lifetime.
Brad Jeffrey (he/him)
Carrie Dalrymple (she/her)
Cass Landrum (she/her)
Summer Programs Director
Clara Bewley (she/her)
SIWI Lead Field Educator
Clara was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She spent much of her early life in her family’s gardens and at their aerobatic aircraft engine shop where she developed a strong foundation in systems thinking and an intense interest in understanding the interconnectedness of all things. Clara graduated from Colorado School of Mines in 2020 with a degree in geological engineering. Throughout her college years, she tutored middle and high school students in math and science, worked as a peer mentor for first year students, and spent two summers at the Gulch as naturalist and program staff. During this time she fell in love with the Southwest and the resilience of its people, plants, and animals. She spent two years working as an engineer in remediation, geologic hazard mitigation, and infrastructure before coming back to the Gulch full time. Clara is passionate about equitable access to the outdoors, community resilience, and environmental literacy, and hopes to share her curiosity about the world, its people, and its systems with her SIWI students and summer trekkers. In her free time, Clara enjoys roller skating, fiber arts, reading, and eating soul food.
Donna White (she/her)
Iris Flechsenhaar (she/her)
Bachechi Open Space Caretaker
Jordan Stone (he/him)
Jordan first came to Cottonwood Gulch In 2007, as a road cook for the Prairie Trek. He quickly recognized Cottonwood Gulch as an organization full of intelligent, curious, and quirky people, and since then his love for the Gulch has only grown. Jordan has held multiple roles within the organization and was honored to step into the role of Executive Director in 2020. Outside of the Gulch, he has served as the Conservation Program Manager for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Albuquerque, worked on an urban organic farm in Wisconsin, and trained in outdoor skills at the National Outdoor Leadership School. He keeps bees, tends a garden, loves to write, and spends plenty of time exploring New Mexico’s abundant public lands. Jordan holds a BA from Pomona College, and a Masters degree in Geography and Environmental Studies (if you’d like to have a conversation about how different people and communities think about “nature”–quite relevant to the Gulch experience–Jordan is a willing participant) from the University of New Mexico. He lives in Albuquerque with his wife, Ellen, who teaches third grade and takes her students outside whenever possible, and their lovely daughter.
Marissa Bluestein (she/her)
SIWI Lead Field Educator
Excited to return to her home state of New Mexico, Marissa joins Cottonwood Gulch having spent the last four years exploring the North Cascades and Olympic mountains of Washington state while working for the National Park Service as a Park Ranger. Marissa holds a masters degree in Environmental Education, Non-Profit Management & Northwest Natural History from Western Washington University and the North Cascades Institute. She is excited to continue her quest of life long learning by blending her love for ecology, natural history and photography in hopes to instill curiosity and wonder for the natural world in students. When not working as a field educator, Marissa is likely eating pizza, out climbing mountains or cruising around the desert on her bike.
Naina Panthaki (she/her)
Director of Education
,Naina Panthaki was born and raised in Albuquerque, receiving her BS in Elementary Education, with a focus in Math and Science, from UNM. She has been a local Albuquerque teacher for the last seven years teaching math, science, gardening, and engineering classes in Title I schools. Naina started working with the Gulch as a classroom teacher taking her students on regular outdoor adventures, growing the program each year. For the last three years, she worked with the Students in Wilderness Initiative (SIWI) Program taking her 8th-grade students deeper into a year long wilderness experience. Starting in 2018, Naina worked with the Gulch’s summer treks, specifically the Paleo Trek, as program staff, cook, and group leader. She has one fabulous daughter, Layla who is a middle schooler and avid Gulch summer trekker. Both Naina and her daughter love to sing, dance, laugh loudly, and spend time in nature.
Olivia Marín (she/her)
Enrollment and Communications Manager
Olivia grew up in Denver and the southern coast of Spain. She was always encouraged to go outside and spent her childhood playing in the foothills of the Rockies and in the cork forests and beaches of Andalucía. A lover of all animals, Olivia has continued to enjoy exploring the outdoors through backpacking, climbing, cycling, scuba, and swimming in any body of (clean) water she can find! After graduating from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Environmental Planning and Design, Olivia accepted an apprenticeship with Yjastros, the American Flamenco Repertory Company. She worked with several farms during this time, developing a love for local food systems. She became a corps member of the company in 2018, performing throughout New Mexico, and the same year, joined the collective Spanish Broom Flamenco- an independent artistic collaborative focused on Flamenco performance. Her love for the outdoors motivated her to continue searching for a way to bring working with the environment into her daily life. In 2020, she was accepted as 2020 Exploring Equitable Education Outdoors Fellow. Through this work, she was introduced to Cottonwood Gulch and was given the opportunity to apply for a position later in the year. She joined the Gulch in September of 2020, and is so excited to work with kids outdoors!
Orlando Romero (he/him)
Orlando has worn many hats and often wears more than one at the same time: father and husband, marathon running coach, USGS hydrologist, soccer coach, martial artist, University of New Mexico rock climbing instructor, substitute teacher, Department of Defense bicycle mechanic, and general purveyor of human-powered pursuits. If you talk to him long enough, you will likely discover something about him that will surprise you. After quitting his grown up job a few years back, Orlando accidently discovered the Gulch from a friend/past student and has been involved ever since. No stranger to helping people dig deeper than they thought they could, he is a profoundly passionate believer in the transformative experiences that trekkers have while participating in Cottonwood Gulch adventures. Orlando has some official-looking papers and among them are a BS in Applied Mathematics, a minor in Fine Arts, and a Masters in Water Resources/Hydroscience (all from UNM). His current paper is an American Mountain Guides Association Single Pitch Instructor certification and Orlando hopes to someday figure out what he will be when he grows up.
Tanner Johnson (he/him)
SIWI Lead Field Educator
Tanner grew up in the forests and tidelands of the Pacific Northwest and spent most of his early years stumbling through nettles and scraping his knees on the rocky shores of the Oregon Coast. He worked with food in various capacities for many years, as a cook, server, farmer, and garden educator before deciding to go back to school. At Western Washington University, Tanner took part in a residency-based M.Ed program in North Cascades National Park, where he also earned certificates in Northwest Natural History and Nonprofit Administration and Management. He spends his free time undertaking big kitchen projects, making brooms, birding, hiking, gardening, and generally poking around in riparian areas.