Matthew J. Nelson

Executive Director

Matthew has been the Executive Director of the ATA since 2012, but his connections to the Arizona Trail go back over 25 years. Among his contributions are trail design, archaeological surveys, volunteer trail construction, and explorations of the AZT on foot, mountain bike and horseback. Matthew has worked as an outdoor educator, Grand Canyon backpacking guide, archaeologist, Native American repatriation coordinator, editor, and freelance photojournalist. He has more than 500 published articles to his credit and is the primary author of Your Complete Guide to the Arizona National Scenic Trail and the Arizona Trail Junior Explorer Handbook. Matthew serves on the Board of Directors for Natural Restorations, and La Tierra del Jaguar; is a policy advisor for Bikepacking Roots; and volunteers on the Trail Leaders Council and Policy & Advocacy Committee for the Partnership for the National Trails System. He has visited the summits of America’s highest peaks, and spent three winters removing trash from Cerro Aconcagua (22,841 ft.) in Argentina. He lives in the Sierrita Mountains southwest of Tucson.

Brittany Chavez

Development Director

Brittany grew up in a small Little Colorado River valley nestled in the beautiful White Mountains of eastern Arizona. She received her BA from Northern Arizona University and became licensed to practice law in 2013. Brittany has served as an associate attorney for Defenders of Children, a Phoenix nonprofit, and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. In 2018 she spent three months traveling the Western US and Canada, and that adventure prompted a career transition to outdoor recreation and conservation. She was a proud partner of the ATA while working as a market coordinator for REI Co-op. She enjoys hiking, hunting and paddling with her family and their German Shorthaired Pointers, Boudreaux and Bijou. She is a member of the Arizona State Bar Environmental and Natural Resources Section, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations, the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, the Grand Canyon Trust and, of course, the Arizona Trail Association.

Neil Stitzer

Trail Director

Born and raised in Tucson, Neil attended the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where he received a B.A. in Geography and Environmental Studies in 2010. It was in Colorado that Neil developed a love for trails as a way for people to connect with nature. His first exposure to trail work was volunteering for trail construction of the Arizona Trail in southern Arizona. Neil worked for the Town of Marana Parks & Recreation Trail Crew building and maintaining trails in the Tortolita Mountains from 2011-2017. In 2017, he worked as a Trails Program Coordinator and Manager for Pima County Natural Resources Parks & Recreation, developing and managing Pima County’s regional trail system until 2023. Neil has extensive professional experience in trails planning, design, construction and maintenance in various locations throughout the southwest, including Arizona Trail projects. As an outdoor enthusiast, he is passionate about working towards supporting a balance between conservation and recreation.

Wendy Lotze

Director of Volunteer Programs

Wendy is an avid hiker and backpacker as well as a native of Arizona. She has completed over 450 miles of the Arizona Trail, including the Sky Islands close to her home in Tucson. She has volunteered on trail building and maintenance crews since 2005 and has been an AZT trail steward since 2012. In 2015 she joined the ATA as the Volunteer Coordinator where she organizes volunteers for a variety of trail related events and crew work. Connecting with volunteers and trail users with the wild places in Arizona is her passion. When she’s not on the trail, Wendy teaches courses on the Sonoran Desert at the University of Arizona and consults as a Landscape Architect on pedestrian focused projects throughout Southern Arizona.

Chrissy Fichter

Manager of Volunteer Engagement

Chrissy is a passionate conservationist who is fascinated by the natural world and dedicated to inspiring human-nature connections. As an active volunteer in her community, she has supported native species, promoted animal welfare, encouraged sustainability, and advocated for the protection of our planet through informal education and outreach. In 2019, Chrissy moved to Tucson from Maryland and became instantly captivated by Sonoran Desert ecology and the diverse landscapes of the Southwest. She explores these interests and nourishes her relationship with nature through hiking, backpacking, trail running, and birdwatching. Chrissy has worked as a registered nurse since 2009 but shifted away from healthcare so that she can prioritize her goal of building human-nature connections in support of conservation. In 2022, Chrissy completed a master’s degree focused on leadership within the field of conservation at the University of Miami Ohio. Soon after, she joined the ATA team as a volunteer engagement specialist through which she supports the organization’s extensive volunteer community.

Renee Stevens

Administrative Director

Renee grew up in the New Orleans area and moved to Tucson in 1986. She quickly fell in love with the desert and mountains and decided to put down roots. She earned her degree in Accounting from the University of Arizona and has been a Certified Public Accountant since 2003. Throughout her career, Renee has helped many non-profit organizations achieve their financial and operational goals. She enjoys volunteering, especially for trail work events and at local trail races. She helped her husband plan and execute his successful thru-hike of the Arizona Trail in 2017. Renee is also an avid camper, hiker and trail runner, and has completed over 50 marathons and ultramarathons. When she is not working or spending time in the wilderness, she loves to read, watch documentaries, practice yoga and meditation, and tend to her backyard flowering cactus gardens.

Shawn Redfield

Steward Extraordinaire

Shawn has been volunteering with the ATA since 2005 when he first made his mark by working on Passage 15 with Anna Pfender. Since then he has been a dedicated volunteer. After 30+ years of bureaucracy as a regional director position with the Department of the Interior’s real estate valuation organization, in 2010 he retired and decided to unwind by hiking the AZT. Since then he has continued to work on many areas of the trail including the layout plans for Passage 14. In 2011, he committed to full-time volunteer work within the Trail Operations program where you can witness his unwavering commitment to the continuation of developing and maintaining the trail. Whether he’s installing a sign, replacing a gate, or conducting trail work, Shawn is always busy supporting staff and volunteers to see that they have the tools, supplies and the where-with-all to do their part. He received the 2015 Trail Volunteer of the Year Award from American Trails, and in 2016 was named the Cox Conserves Hero for Arizona – an award that honors volunteers who create, preserve or enhance the outdoor places in our communities.

Michael “Chappy” Chappell

VETS Program Director

Following his deployments during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Chappy sought solace in the therapeutic embrace of nature, which steered him towards enrollment at the esteemed National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Here, his academic endeavors centered on Outdoor Education and Conservation, fostering a deep understanding of the symbiotic relationship between humanity and the environment. Harnessing this knowledge, he dedicated himself to empowering outdoor enthusiasts by providing them with top-tier gear from REI, thereby igniting their passion for exploration and adventure. While at the Old Pueblo Co-Op, Chappy assumed dual roles as Outreach Specialist and Outdoor School Instructor, collaborating with local nonprofits to impart essential skills and knowledge on various outdoor pursuits. As a proud Tucson native, his commitment to community service runs deep, evidenced by his involvement with esteemed organizations such as the Southern Arizona Rescue Association, Arizona Conservation Corps, and the National Park Service. In his current capacity as the VETS Program Director with the ATA, Chappy is unwaveringly committed to crafting tailor-made initiatives designed to enrich the lives of those who have bravely served our nation. By creating nature-based programming and fostering meaningful connections, we aim to ensure veterans have the tools and opportunities to thrive along the scenic expanse of the Arizona National Scenic Trail and beyond!

Treven Hooker

Youth Outreach Coordinator (Southern AZ)

Born and raised in Arizona, Treven has led the Seeds of Stewardship program in southern Arizona since 2016. He is dedicated to helping youth develop long lasting and meaningful relationships to Nature. He believes these experiences will positively affect every aspect of their life, their environment, and their community. Treven mentors students to become ethical naturalists who are motivated to advocate and protect Nature. He believes that in order to have a sustainable future, it must include a healthier and happier relationship to Nature.

Clay Showalter

Youth Outreach Coordinator (Northern AZ)

Environmental, racial, and social justice form the foundation of Clay’s approach to conservation and environmental education. He fell in love with Arizona’s diverse landscapes and people while thru-hiking the AZT in 2022 and is excited to bring over a decade of field experience across six states and five countries to his work in Northern Arizona. “It has been a particularly challenging period for young people in this country and adolescents are capable of much more than what they believe they can do and what society tells them they can do,” says Clay. “Outdoor education has never been more urgently needed to empower youth, build community, and sow seeds of advocacy and stewardship.”

Makenzie Mabery

Gear Girls Coordinator

For the better part of the last decade, Makenzie has worked across the West as a wildland firefighter and most recently as an Environmental Planner, focused on NEPA work in the Southwest. Her background exemplifies an admiration for sustainability and land management which is highly relevant to mountain biking and trail stewardship. Makenzie grew up and learned to pedal in Northern Arizona. Though she has ridden trails and roads all over the world, she notes that nothing compares to the diverse terrain, weather, and varying ecosystems found throughout Arizona. She is very excited to cultivate community and create an experience on bikes that is specific to the needs of girls, allowing them to embrace the fullest versions of themselves. She hopes that as girls continue to progress on the bike, they will stay in the sport and apply lessons learned in the saddle to everyday life.

Jody Bartz

GRO Girl GRO Coordinator

Jody is a passionate educator, energetic mountain biker, trail runner, and dedicated cycling coach. She received her Ph.D. with a major in Special Education and a minor in Family Studies and Human Development from the University of Arizona in 2012. In 2013, she moved to Flagstaff, Arizona where along with being an assistant professor at Northern Arizona University, she was a steward of the AZT, developed and was the head coach for a local high school MTB team. Jody is the developer and coordinator for GRO Girl GRO – a girls’ only program in Tucson that uses mountain biking, hiking and stewardship activities to fostering a love of and respect for the outdoors. Jody and her husband Jon were married 100 steps from the trailhead of their segment of the Arizona Trail in Flagstaff! In 2021, they moved to Tucson, where they now live and are proud trail stewards of one of their favorite sections of the AZT!

Sara Sprague

Community Programs Coordinator (Northern AZ)

Sara began her connection with the land through the practice of gardening and walking through the woods in Colorado. Her work and hobbies align with her interest and passion to empower youth, teach within various capacities, and to be outside. Sara is committed to work engaged in equity, access, and ameliorating the nexus of environmental, social, and racial injustices. Outside of work, Sara enjoys farming and gardening in Northern Arizona, cultivating community, and volunteering with local nonprofits and organizations. She is enthusiastic about exploring the Arizona Trail with youth and facilitating a space where a deeper connection to the self, community, and nature can come into fruition.

Ali Soland

Youth Outreach Assistant (Southern AZ)

Ali joined the Arizona Trail Ambassador program as an intern in their junior year of high school. After joining the program, Ali fell in love with the Sonoran Desert. The program opened their eyes to the beauty of the landscape they had lived in all their life and changed their life for the better. They remained involved for two years while also interning with Ironwood Tree Experience. Their senior year of high school was dedicated to environmental activism, education, and nature connection. Their dreams came true when they got their position here after graduating from high school. Ali has made it their life’s mission to mentor youth through nature connection. They hope that youth along the Arizona Trail can find that same comfort, community, and connection in the Sonoran Desert.

Sarah Dowling

Gear Girls Assistant

Sarah’s love of the outdoors sprouted while catching frogs, foraging herbs, and playing in the lush forests of the Northeast. She believes in the power of connection to the natural world as a necessary element in inspiring a sense of creativity, joy, and responsibility for the greater world around us. Sarah is passionate about fostering spaces for youth and adults that encourage greater confidence and joy within themselves as well as deeply personal bonds with the outdoors. She is grateful to be doing so with the Arizona Trail Association. When she is not working with the ATA, Sarah teaches yoga and can be found outside trail running, biking, or catching a great sunset with some grade A snacks.

Olivia Woods

Trail Technician

Olivia was born and raised in Arizona, and grew up exploring the diverse landscapes near her home. She is an avid hiker and backpacker, and first discovered the joy of stewardship while volunteering with the Phoenix Park Stewards. Olivia has attended all of the Trail Skills Institute courses and is putting those skills to work on the Arizona Trail every chance she gets. Prior to her current role, she was the ATA Field Coordinator for Northern Arizona. She is also a certified Wildland Firefighter. Her goal is to protect and preserve the beautiful lands of Arizona so as many people as possible have an opportunity to experience the forests, canyons, mountains, deserts and trails that have impacted her life in such a positive way.

Shannon Villegas

Marketing and Graphic Designer

Shannon is an enthusiastic Arizona Trail ambassador. She’s always looking to spend time on the trail and inspire others to fall in love with the AZT. She loves pushing pixels as a graphic designer, and has been lending her talents to the ATA since 2016. Her own graphic design business was started after she left San Diego and moved to Tucson in 2006. The outdoors are her playground, and she enjoys mountain biking and trail running. A SoCal convert, she feels incredibly blessed to live and work in Arizona with her husband, and is always looking for a new adventure… living life ‘with the lid off’!

Aaron Seifert

GIS Director

Aaron has been with the Arizona Trail Association since the summer of 2008 when the “Close the Gap” trail work was being done just north of Flagstaff. He publishes and maintains all the passage maps, interactive website maps, and supply map data for the Arizona Trail App, Arizona Trail To Go App, Topo/Trail Line Map Set, exports to GPX files that are posted on the website as well as other various map products. He’s been working in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) since 1996 after receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Geography from Northern Arizona University. He mostly likes mountain biking and hiking trails across the state and hopes to bite off segments of the Arizona Trail until he completes it. In 2015 he received the AGIC (Arizona Geographic Information Council) Chairperson’s Volunteer of the Year Award for his work with the ATA.

Tasha Pontifex

Field Coordinator – Southern Arizona

Tasha has been volunteering with the ATA since 2006, where she initially cut trails on the Las Cienegas passage south of Tucson.  She grew up in Montana and attended college on the East Coast but couldn’t resist returning to the West.  She moved to Tucson in 2001 and started working at the University of Arizona as a research technician.  She has also volunteered to build and maintain trails for other organizations in the Tucson area, believing that the more trails, the better.  She received the 2019 Volunteer of the Year Award and now embraces her new role as a Field Coordinator.  As the use of the ATA grows, so will the need for volunteers, and Tasha is committed to making sure each and every volunteer has a great experience.

Heidi Larson

Field Coordinator – Northern Arizona

Heidi has always been fascinated by nature and science; all the little connections that are easily overlooked. She moved from the Midwest to Flagstaff to study Physics and Astronomy at NAU, and became charmed by the mountains and forest on the edges of town. Heidi transitioned from hiker to mountain biker after becoming a telescope operator for Lowell Observatory at the 4m telescope in Happy Jack. A lot of time between shifts and some awesomely long bike commutes were spent on and near the AZT during this time. After helping with a few local trail work days, Heidi discovered the Trail Skills Institute courses. After attending all the modules, she became a Trail Steward in 2022. Heidi says, “Trails provide amazing opportunities to connect with nature, yourself, and any trail buddies – people, lizards, deer, and others. I want to encourage others to get out exploring and volunteering to support local trails and ecosystems.”