Foothills Conservancy is staffed by a dedicated team of professionals who love Western North Carolina and believe its natural resources are precious and worth protecting.
Andrew Kota, Executive Director
Andrew joined Foothills Conservancy in 2005 as an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member. He has more than fifteen years of experience in resource protection and ecological research. In the role of Executive Director, Andrew combines his years of experience with Foothills Conservancy, passion for conservation, and aptitude for leadership, working closely with the conservancy’s Board of Directors, staff, donors and various partners to guide the organization in its mission to protect our region’s natural and cultural resources, public parks, trails and open spaces. He holds a BS Biology from Guilford College, MS Forestry from Utah State University, MBA from Appalachian State University, Nonprofit Management Certificate from Duke University and a NC Real Estate license.
Beth Willard-Patton, Associate Director
Beth grew up on a 300-acre century farm that’s been in her family since the 1800s. With strong ties to the land, when she began as the conservancy’s Development Director in 2014 to lead Foothills Conservancy’s fundraising efforts and expand their base of private support, she knew she’d found her dream job. In 2018 she moved into the Associate Director role where she continues to help raise awareness for the conservancy’s conservation mission while assisting the Executive Director. Beth graduated from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington with a BS in Business and Accounting and has more than 15 years of professional experience in marketing, accounting, grant management, and event direction. Beth and her husband Corey reside in Morganton with their daughter and son.
Tom Kenney, Land Protection Director
Tom has been on staff with Foothills Conservancy since March 2000. He holds a Master’s degree in Natural Resource Analysis & Geographic Information Systems from Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota and a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from N.C. State University. With a background in conservation planning and 19 years of experience securing agreements for the purchase or donation of lands and conservation easements, he works with landowners and partners to save significant land, waters, and farmland of the Blue Ridge Mountains and foothills. Tom serves on the South Mountains State Park Advisory Committee and Catawba River Wildlife Coalition. He and wife Wendy live in Morganton. He enjoys canoeing, hiking, and experiencing nature often in Pisgah National Forest and the South Mountains as well as gardening and travel.
Ryan Sparks, Stewardship Director
Ryan has been on staff with Foothills Conservancy since 2016. His love for the Blue Ridge Mountains, coupled with a passion to protect their one-of-a-kind forests and natural features, inspired him to pursue a career in forestry. After earning a Master of Forest Resources and a Master of Arts in Nonprofit Organizations from the University of Georgia, Ryan is proud to be putting his skills and knowledge to use helping protect and steward lands as Foothills Conservancy’s conservation associate. He was born in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina and despite many moves throughout the state and the South, he always felt a strong calling back to his childhood mountain home. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his family, collecting vinyl records and enjoying music, and backyard birding.
Sophie Shelton, Communications & Outreach Associate
Sophie is responsible for implementing outreach and communications programs to increase the conservancy’s community visibility and the public’s understanding and support of Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina. She assists in development for the organization through fundraising and events. She grew up in Roanoke, VA and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies: Organizational Communication and Public Relations from Longwood University. She has lived in North Carolina since 2013 and enjoys hiking, camping, climbing, and listening to music. She lives in Morganton with her fiancé, Ross, and their pets.
Isaac Crouch, Office & Finance Administrator
Isaac joined the Foothills Conservancy staff in 2017. He grew up in Morganton and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Physics from Appalachian State University and a Master’s degree in Science Education from Michigan Technological University. His passions include science, music, and podcasts. He loves the community, is involved in various service-driven organizations, and feels privileged to have the opportunity to lend his talents to the important work Foothills Conservancy does.
Brittany Watkins, Special Prodjects Coordinator
Brittany began with Foothills Conservancy in September 2018 as an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member serving as the Volunteer Coordinator, responsible for volunteer projects. As Special Projects Coordinator, Brittany maintains the volunteer program and assists with outreach and stewardship. Brittany graduated from the University of North Carolina, Asheville with a BS in Literature & Environmental Science. Outside of school she has been involved in such environmental efforts as trail restoration, with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corp and educating children about healthy food options, at Asheville’s RAD Farmer’s Market. She is passionate about community engagement and loves encouraging others to explore the outdoors.