Kristen Jespersen

Executive Director

Kristen grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area as the eldest of seven siblings. After marrying her husband Soren and moving to Steamboat Springs in 2009 she cultivated a fondness for hiking, backpacking, skiing, rafting and biking. Kristen also enjoys dancing and acting and has been involved with Steamboat Dance Theatre, a local non-profit that puts on an annual dance concert for adults for over a decade.

Prior to Yampatika, Kristen was the Development Director for a non-profit called RiversEdge West (REW) for 10 years. As the Development Director, Kristen worked with numerous practitioners, scientists, and educators to restore riparian lands and river systems throughout the Southwest. Her role was to facilitate collaboration across different sectors, fundraise, improve organizational health, encourage strategic thinking and build capacity for the groups doing the restoration work on the ground. She is excited to join the Yampatika team and bring her experience and passion to the organization.

Kristen enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, her 8-year old daughter and puppy. Other hobbies include cooking, traveling, and gardening.


Sheryl Horton

School Programs Manager

Sheryl began her love affair with Colorado in 1999 while working for the Geological Society of America. She has spent the past 20+ years in the Rocky Mountains and Southwest working as a Geologist and educator. She has a bachelor’s degree in Geology from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, her home state, and a master’s degree in Education from Adams State University.

Her passion for environmental education and science led her to become an educator to pass on her enduring curiosity about and respect for the natural world to the next generation. She has worked as the In-Class Program Coordinator for Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s Schools and Outdoor Learning Environments (SOLE) program and most recently came from Denver Water, serving as the Youth Education Coordinator. Her appreciation of the outdoors extends outside of work as well. She enjoys hiking, snowboarding, snowshoeing, skiing, backpacking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hunting, travel, watercolor Plein air, and anything else that takes her out and about. She is also an avid photographer, dancer, and board gamer.


Hailey Shoptaugh

Adult and Community Programs Manager

Hailey grew up on the coast of North Carolina and spent her childhood exploring the beaches of the Outer Banks and running through the Croatan National Forest. Her love for the outdoors inspired her career path, and she earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Science from North Carolina State University in 2020. Hailey’s passion for wildlife and conservation grew during her undergraduate studies, so following her graduation from NC State, she pursued a Master’s of Science in Biology from Appalachian State University. In 2022, she earned her M.S. and completed her thesis project studying common snapping turtles and freshwater ecosystems. While working on her degrees, Hailey developed her other passion: education and outreach. Hailey has served as an environmental educator for the Rachel Carson Reserve, a student mentor for first generation college students, and a teaching assistant for college biology courses. After working with the aquatics division of CPW in Fort Collins, Hailey decided to combine her love for conservation as well as environmental education and outreach work here in Steamboat Springs. Outside of work, you’ll find Hailey hiking, kayaking, reading, baking, or finding some other excuse to be outside. 



Reece Wells

Camp and Facilities Manager

Reece is originally from Denton, TX, and has been obsessed with nature since he first started cataloging the animals found on his family’s Ranch in the scraggly desert of Southwest Texas. From city parks to winding rivers and expansive lakes to wild, remote places, he loves getting to experience the thought-provoking beauty that nature provides everywhere. Even more, he loves getting to share that beauty and intentionally provokes the thoughts of others. Reece majored in Environmental Science in college with the main goal of always wanting to work outside. Luckily enough, he has been able to do that, leading and directing Camping and Outdoor Education programs in Colorado, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Colorado has always been one of his favorite places because of the amazing nature and unique people. In his free time, you’re likely to find him hiking, backpacking, skiing, biking, or chilling in a hammock with a good book. One of his favorite parts about working with kids at Camp is playing games, of which he always has a few up his sleeve.


Halie Cunningham

Water Education Coordinator

​Halie grew up in the Sandhills of North Carolina, riding horses in endangered Longleaf Pine savannahs, and went on yearly family ski trips to Sun Valley, Idaho. These childhood experiences fueled her passion for outdoor sports and environmental stewardship. She obtained a B.S. in Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University and a graduate certificate in Climate Adaptation from NC State University. Halie has held many positions in outdoor and environmental education: including ski instructor, wrangler, compost tea brewer, and zero-waste educator, to name a few. In her leisure time, Halie can be found skiing, hiking, paddle boarding, or most likely, spending quality time with her horse, Leo, and her bunny, Maple.


Joel Denney

Youth Programs Coordinator

Joel Denney grew up amongst the sunny skies and sandy beaches of Southern California. Originally from Tustin, Joel spent some of his formative memories seeing views of the West from the window of his family RV. These camping trips would form the basis of his love for the outdoors and his passion for the environment. After High School, he worked as a Recreation Leader at a summer camp near Yosemite National Park, where he developed a yearning for a career in the outdoor industry. He would go on to obtain a bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies at Cal Poly Humboldt, nestled in the Redwood forests and rocky cliffs of Northern California.

After graduating during the height of the pandemic, Joel realized that getting a corporate job in a big city didn’t seem realistic, so he chose adventure and moved to Aspen, Colorado, to work on the lifts and learn how to ski. After some time at the Keystone Science School, Joel moved to Steamboat Springs in 2021, searching for community, adventure, and a career in Environmental Education. He enjoys skiing, camping, biking, hiking, reading books, and playing music.



Senior Naturalist

Karen Vail is a Steamboat native and has been involved in Yampatika from its beginning–way back in the early 1990s. Karen received a B.S. in Horticulture, with a concentration in Botany from Colorado State University, and earned her Master’s Degree in Gardening from the Royal Horticultural Society in England. She rode the “big yellow bus” for a year on Audubon Expedition Institute during her first year towards a Masters in Environmental Education, finishing up at Antioch in New England. She runs her own landscaping business, and has recently published a phenomenal book with Mary O’Brien: “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies”. Karen also published a book of beautiful wildflower photographs, entitled “For the Joy of Wildflowers: Colorado Creations.” She has also created a DVD of local wildflowers.


 In Memorium of Sue Hansen

On October 11th, 2022, Sue passed away surrounded by friends and family. She will be missed after years of working in the Yampatika family.

All who knew her could feel Sue’s caring spirit and generous heart. She was a lover of the outdoors and spent much of her time in the mountains enjoying the serene beauty they encompass. Sue was one with nature, especially amongst the wildflowers, which brought out the happy and free spirit that defined her. She was a bright and shining soul and a reminder to live fully with eyes wide open. Sue was a beacon of light and a steward in the community whose dedication toward all things good will be appreciated for years to come.

Seasonal and Professional Naturalists

  • Mary O’Brien, Senior Naturalist
  • Chris Becea, Adult Programs
  • Ames Williford, Adult Programs
  • Denise Richter, School Programs

Board of Directors

  • Greg Friedman, Vero Networks, Board President 
  • Morgan Bast, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation, Board Vice President
  • Pete Blei, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation, Board Treasurer
  • Lisa Hankes; Donnelly, Minter, & Kelly LLC; Board Secretary
  • Brett Bruyere, CO State University, Director
  • Don Jeffrey “Jeff” Steck, Community Volunteer, Director
  • Adam Feiges, Developer, Director
  • Mary Ann Ninger, Community Volunteer, Director
  • Andrew Stoller, Ski Haus, Director
  • Liz Baldwin, UC Health YVMC Hearth and Vascular, Director
  • Carrie Reuben, Social Enterpreneur and Impact Investor, Director


  • US Forest Service
  • Bill Dring, Retired
  • Jaime Letson, Letson Enterprises, Inc.
  • Libbie Miller, Colorado Parks & Wildlife
  • Ed MacArthur, Native Excavating, Inc.
  • Ward Van Scoyk, Attorney