Our Team

Meet the Staff

Joe Engel

Joe Engel

Executive Director
April Scholtz

April Scholtz

Land Protection Director
Justin Heslinga

Justin Heslinga

Stewardship Director
Jim Peterson

Jim Peterson

Finance Director
Kim Karn

Kim Karn

Development Director
Marie Orttenburger

Marie Orttenburger

Communications Specialist
Nick Sanchez

Nick Sanchez

Conservation Easement Stewardship Specialist
Emily Ambs

Emily Ambs

Development & Events Specialist
Lucas Dykstra

Lucas Dykstra

Stewardship Specialist
Anna Kornoelje

Anna Kornoelje

Land Protection Specialist
  • Joe Engel
  • April Scholtz
  • Justin Heslinga
  • Jim Peterson
  • Kim Karn
  • Marie Orttenburger
  • Nick Sanchez
  • Emily Ambs
  • Lucas Dykstra
  • Anna Kornoelje
  • Joe Engel

    A native of Muskegon, Joe spent much of his youth exploring the dunes and shoreline just over the hill from his back dunes home. His love of nature–and a like-minded family–led to fishing, camping, and hiking throughout both peninsulas and ultimately fostered a lifelong love of the outdoors that has taken him to all 50 states. Having seen Mt. Denali on a clear day in Alaska, and soaked his feet in the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Joe will tell you it’s still tough to match the beauty of a brown trout rising through the morning mist on the Pere Marquette River.

    An attorney by training and vocation, Joe has been involved in numerous environmental and conservation organizations throughout his life. He has been a supporter of the Land Conservancy for the past decade, and more recently has served on its board and executive committee. Joe joined the Land Conservancy in 2016.

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  • April Scholtz

    April has been working for the Land Conservancy since 1993 – back when it was known as “NACOWMI” (Natural Areas Conservancy of West Michigan).

    Her work in land protection began even earlier, though, when in 1985 she began working with the State of Michigan’s Wilderness and Natural Areas Program for the Michigan Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. One of her first projects was to coordinate the natural areas designation of the Saugatuck Dunes Natural Area. April soon added experience and skills in private land protection throughout Michigan – from snake habitats in southern Hillsdale County to rocky outcroppings on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

    She has a master’s degree from the University of Michigan, with graduate studies in both biology and natural resource management and policy, advanced training in land protection techniques and their tax implications, and a (never activated) realtor’s license. Twenty years after she began her career in land protection, April is still working, happily, on the preservation of important natural areas throughout West Michigan.

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  • Justin Heslinga

    Growing up in West Michigan, Justin always enjoyed exploring the area's forests, prairies, and lakeshore. He joined the Land Conservancy in 2014. His position as Stewardship Director allows him to fulfill his strong commitment to protecting and caring for the rich diversity of West Michigan's natural landscapes.

    Justin's background includes working as a botanist, restoration ecologist, and environmental educator in the Midwest and in East Africa. Justin earned a Bachelor's degree in Biology from Calvin College and a Master's degree in Natural Resources and Environment from the University of Michigan. When not at work, you'll find him enjoying outdoor activities, fishing, gardening, or playing music.

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  • Jim Peterson

    Jim is a lifelong resident of West Michigan. His love of the outdoors and travel has led to cycle touring in the US, Canada and Europe, backpacking in the Tetons, canoeing in the Boundary Waters and hiking in the southwest US and the Virgin Islands. Closer to home, Jim and his wife Katie enjoy the natural beauty and many opportunities for year-round outdoor activities in western and northern lower Michigan. His interest in seeing these resources expanded, cared for and preserved for future generations led him to join the Land Conservancy in 2019 as part-time Finance Director.

    Jim has a bachelor’s degree from Ferris State University and master’s from Western Michigan University, and is a CPA. Prior to joining LCWM, he spent 28 years in financial management positions at both Muskegon and Grand Rapids Community Colleges. He has also been a volunteer with the National Ski Patrol for over 30 years.

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  • Kim Karn

    Kimberly Karn started with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan in September of 2019. Kim got her start at the University of Washington working in University Advancement where she discovered her passion for working with donors. Kim most recently lead a $20 million-dollar campaign for a non-profit archaeological center in Colorado. Kim’s desire to work in conservation stems from her desire to make the world a better place for future generations.

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  • Marie Orttenburger

    Marie grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where gorgeous natural surroundings are difficult to escape. Naturally, she developed a deep appreciation for those surroundings, and along with it a desire to help preserve them.

    Marie relocated to the Grand Rapids area in 2010 and graduated from Grand Valley State University with a B.A. in English and Professional Writing in 2014. In 2015, she began reporting on Great Lakes environmental news for Great Lakes Echo and was later promoted to the website’s assistant editor. There, she wrote and podcasted about vernal pools, dark sky parks, wildlife disease, invasive species and more, and she realized the power of storytelling to inform the public and inspire environmental protection. She joined the Land Conservancy of West Michigan as the organization’s Communications Specialist in 2018. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to spread the word about the importance of keeping nature nearby.

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  • Nick Sanchez

    Nick grew up in Laingsburg, MI on a steady diet of nature documentaries and family time outdoors camping and fishing. He graduated in 2013 from Michigan State University with a Bachelors of Science in Forestry with a concentration in Forest Resource Management.

    Nick was first exposed to restoration of the natural world through an extra credit project to identify and map black swallow-wort on MSU’s campus. In 2010, Nick worked as a stewardship coordinator with Ingham County Park. He was later hired by Meridian Township Parks to work with volunteers and staff to implement invasive species removals, park maintenance, tree plantings and a deer management program. In 2015, Nick was hired as a Conservation District Forester working with private forest owners and community partners to deliver forestry assistance to the public in a three-county service area. Nick was hired by the Land Conservancy of West Michigan in May 2019 and is excited to broaden his horizons and strengthen his new ties to the community and natural world of West Michigan.

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  • Emily Ambs

    Growing up in Ottawa County, Emily spent many summers and weekends at beaches and parks and, from an early age, developed a passion for taking care of the environment. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Community Leadership and Communication from Aquinas College, which furthered her commitment to sustainability.

    Emily joined the Land Conservancy in 2019 as the Development and Events Specialist—in her words, “the perfect combination of data and people.” Her professional experience includes event planning, database management, administration, and also grantmaking, having most recently worked at Grand Rapids Community Foundation. In her current role, Emily handles the Land Conservancy’s events, manages the database system, and processes all donations. Additionally, she collaborates with the Development Director to create and implement fundraising strategies to grow supporters and increase organizational capacity.

    When Emily is not working, you can find her reading at the beach, teaching dance classes, or chatting with friends at local restaurants.

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  • Lucas Dykstra

    Born and raised on a West Michigan hobby farm, Lucas had plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. From scooping up frogs in the backyard pond to blazing trails through the nearby forest, he always had knack for immersing himself in the natural world. Family camping trips to the mountain west and throughout the Great Lakes region only helped to amplify his desire for a future in conservation. Lucas graduated with an Environmental Science degree from Carthage College with a focus in Conservation and Ecology.

    Throughout his career he has worked on ecological restoration projects from the northwoods of Minnesota, to the prairies of Illinois, and throughout the state of Michigan. Lucas believes that having amazing natural areas so close is something not to be taken for granted, and he hopes to restore and preserve those same opportunities for future generations. In his spare time, you can catch him backpacking, gardening, and canoeing.

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  • Anna Kornoelje

    Mowing lawns for the City of Grand Rapids Parks department was Anna's first experience in a career in nature that has spanned two decades so far. A Bachelor's degree from Grand Valley State University provided a launching pad to 6 years of field work. Anna's work included cataloging caterpillars in Costa Rica, monitoring endangered birds in the UP and Arizona, and banding migrating songbirds in Oregon.

    After traveling and living in tents and trucks for these years, Anna returned to GVSU to earn a Master's degree in Biology.

    Most recently she worked at the Kalamazoo Nature Center directing stewardship activities like biological surveys, invasive species removal, and native species planting. Anna joined the Land Conservancy in 2020 as a Land Protection Specialist, a position that allows her to protect our incredible natural resources here in Michigan.
  • Joe Engel
  • April Scholtz
  • Justin Heslinga
  • Jim Peterson
  • Kim Karn
  • Marie Orttenburger
  • Nick Sanchez
  • Emily Ambs
  • Lucas Dykstra
  • Anna Kornoelje

Meet the Board of Directors

Bill Lawrence, Chair
John Scholtz, Vice Chair
Elise Tripp, Secretary
Tom Roe, Treasurer
Cindy Angerer
John Byl
Carl Erickson
Myron Erickson
John Fox
Claire Guisfredi
Danielle Parmenter
Jonathan Prins
Steven Rice
Dave Rinard

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