People of the Preserve
Peter Couchman is a hybrid between a vegetable gardening father and an ornamental horticulturist mother, germinated and grown in Gettysburg, PA. While still a teenager, Peter began a career as a professional opera singer, eventually making solo appearances at New York’s Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall and Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral. While singing, he simultaneously earned bachelor’s degrees in music at the New England Conservatory of Music and in biopsychology at Tufts University. He also earned a master’s of music from the University of Cincinnati. His great passion for horticulture ultimately overcame his music, and he graduated from the School of Professional Horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden. Since then, Peter has garnered a wide variety of experience in the horticulture industry. As the Green Roof Associate at Landcraft Environments in Mattituck, NY, he assisted in the design and installation of a design-forward 20,000 sq. ft. green roof. The following year, Peter joined Verdant Gardens Design as the Associate Designer and Horticulture Manager, creating lush, dynamic residential and commercial landscapes throughout NYC. In 2011, Peter traveled to Frederick, MD to start as the new Head Gardener at High Glen Gardens, becoming their first Executive Director in 2013. Since that time, he has led High Glen Gardens through their first master plan, first strategic plan, managed a wetland restoration, created new marketing initiatives, implemented new database and mapping software, and was the lead designer for several new gardens and garden renovations. An active lecturer, Peter has spoken at the New York Botanical Garden, Longwood Gardens, the United States Botanic Garden and American University. Peter was thrilled to continue his passion for public horticulture, conservation and ecology as the new Executive Director of Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve on June 29, 2020, and has relocated back to his home state with his husband Phillip, a psychotherapist.
“The Preserve’s mission truly speaks to me—beginning with the importance of native plants, leading to the significance of plant and animal communities, and then expanding to our human relationship with our environment and the effects of human activity on our shared planet.”
Donna Dahringer, who has experience in plant production, nursery sales, and landscape design, joined the Preserve in early February as our new nursery and sales manager. For the past 10+ years, Donna has planned, organized, and done the hands-on propagation and growing of plants on her family’s small farm in Stockton, NJ. She has also done planning and propagation for a floriculture venture, graphic design work for landscape architects in NJ and PA, and nursery sales and landscape design at Rutgers Landscape and Nursery.
While completing a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture at Rutgers University, she did extensive research into optimizing ecological function on agricultural sites. She has designed native plant gardens for Duke Farms and a garden that combined native and ornamental plants at the New Jersey Pinelands Commission's headquarters. Previous to changing careers, Donna ran her own consulting practice providing healthcare policy and policy communications services. She also holds an MBA and a Masters of Public Policy from Duke University.
"When I was growing up, my parents had a weekend property with an old farmhouse, a pond, a pine grove, a birch grove, and a meadow, adjacent to public land with streams and wooded mountains to hike. I would spend hours wandering through these places with my dog. The appeal of and effortless fascination with nature has remained with me ever since. At Bowman’s Preserve, I not only feel gratified that I can help contribute to nature by making native plants more readily available, but also feel restored by the Preserve’s beautiful, natural surroundings."
Rick Fonda is responsible for the maintenance of plantings, trails, special habitats such as the new pond and the moss garden, and Preserve buildings. He also manages the removal of invasive species, maintains the deer fence and oversees the set up for events. Before joining the Preserve, he was a CSA manager for Greener Partners, a farm-based educational nonprofit in Montgomery County.
“Among my aspirations in life is to pass along a piece of ground to a new generation in better condition than I found it. Working at the Preserve is one way to make the world a better place for my kids. Bringing them here to see the beautiful, verdant place where I work makes me proud.”
Brie Ilenda, a long-time Preserve member and former volunteer naturalist in the early 2000s, joined the Preserve in May 2020 as the development associate. For over a decade, Brie worked in environmental education at the Center for Aquatic Sciences in Camden, NJ. Her long-standing commitment to conservation inspired her to work at the Preserve. Brie, who holds a B.A. from Rosemont College in philosophy and political science, lives in Holland, PA, with her family and pet tortoise. Her interests include music, Pilates, phenology and very amateur photography.
“I love the science and magic of the Preserve. The preservation of the grounds and nursery plants is so deliberate, so empirical. Yet, the appearance of skunk cabbage out of the snow every winter, and of peepers in the spring, seems otherworldly. The connections the Preserve inspires between people and plants are a mix of that science and magic.”
Jason Ksepka insures that the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve conforms to the highest standards of museum practices by fully documenting the Preserve’s living plant collections. He is responsible for all aspects of creating and maintaining the plant records database, as well as monitoring the health of the living collections. He maintains a list of sources for plant material, collects seeds and live plants from wild populations of local provenance to add to the living collection, and helps locate planting sites within the Preserve. Jason received a B.S.F. in forestry and a B.S in fisheries/wildlife management at the University of Missouri in Columbia. His past experience includes landscape restoration work and nursing. He is a passionate gardener and maintains a bog garden filled with carnivorous plants.
“As the Preserve’s curator, I have an amazing opportunity to continue to learn more about the natural history and culture of many species of native plants, both in the wild and at our Preserve. One of my favorite jobs is going out into the field to collect and bring back new species for introduction to the Preserve. I also help propagate and plant native species here.” “All of this helps develop a collection of high diversity and helps make plants available to the community through plant sales and reciprocity with other agencies such as The Natural Lands Trust.”
Laurie is responsible for maintaining the Twinleaf Book & Gift Shop. Laurie brings many years of retail experience to the Preserve. She owned and operated her own retail music store in Lock Haven, PA for 25 years, and also spent time as a General Manager of an A.C. Moore Arts and Craft store in Bensalem, PA. Laurie has a B.A. in Music Education and post-graduate credits in horticulture and green house management. Raised in Newtown, Bucks County, Laurie currently lives in Langhorne where she is working on converting her home landscape to feature many native plants.
“Animals and nature have been a life long passion of mine. I spent time at the Preserve in my childhood and would visit when I could while living out of the area. I feel so privileged now to be part of the staff and to devote time and energy to helping the Preserve continue into the future.”
Santino joined the Preserve's staff in October 2019 after serving most recently as the head of the Education Department for the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art, a non-profit dedicated to the life’s work of one of Pennsylvania's unsung environmental heroes. Santino served as the lead for the Center's educational programming, helping visitors to leave more inspired by our natural world. Originally from central New York, he received his B.S. in Wildlife Management from SUNY - College of Environmental Science and Forestry. An avid lover of the outdoors since his childhood spent just outside the Adirondack Park, he relishes all opportunities to share his passion for nature and science with others.
"I can never get enough of the natural world; I have enjoyed its splendor in all seasons and conditions. Inspired by the many great naturalists of our past such as Carson, Leopold, Muir, and Smith, I only wish to be a lens for others to see and feel the same majesty and reverence as I do when walking through the forest. I feel so honored to be part of the Preserves staff and I look forward to sharing its many wonders.”
John Murphy is the Preserve’s new facilities coordinator. Working with Rick Fonda, our grounds and facilities manager, the Levittown resident is responsible for the daily upkeep and care of the Preserve’s facilities and grounds, from the Visitor Center to the signs and structures along the Preserve’s trails.
Born and raised in Andalusia, Bucks County, he is a graduate of Bensalem High School and the Orleans Technical College of Philadelphia, where he earned a diploma in building maintenance. John has significant experience as a building engineer and maintenance technician, particularly at hotels in Bucks County and hotels and a campground in western Pennsylvania, where he lived for a few years before returning to Bucks County in 2019.
“I’m an outdoor person and it’s a whole different world for me being in nature on the trails at the Preserve,” he says. “It’s fun for me and I really enjoy it.”
JOHN MURPHY, Facilities Coordinator
Maggie Stucker plans, coordinates and executes the interpretation of the Preserve in cooperation with the education coordinator, education committee, staff and volunteers. Her career path led her from the creative department of the exhibit industry to conducting nature programs for various schools and organizations. While pursuing her new career, she crafted her further education as a naturalist and served as an intern at The Wild Center Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks. The former director of the Bucks County Audubon Society is certified as a Pennsylvania Master Naturalist, NAI Certified Interpretive Guide and NAI Certified Interpretive Trainer and also served as the Director of the Bucks County Audubon Society. Her company, Tree Frog Nature & Learning, LLC, currently provides interpretive nature programs and games for children and adults. Maggie is also on the board of directors of Fireman’s Hall Museum in Philadelphia. She lives with her husband in Solebury and enjoys hiking, paddling, gardening and exploring the natural world.
"I have always loved being immersed in the natural world. Each outing has its surprises and provocations. I love the Preserve because it is one place that celebrates and protects nature's little jewels and encourages others to see what is beautiful and valuable in the fabric of life."
Jen Ventresca joined the Preserve as its business manager in January 2021 to ensure sound business practices and to make certain that all revenue and expenses—including payroll issues, credit card statements, endowments, grants, donations, membership fees and sales revenues —are handled properly. One of her goals is to streamline BHWP’s business operations and digitize them. Ventresca’s two decades of business management and bookkeeping experience include serving as the business manager for a Taos, New Mexico-based builder of sustainable, off-grid homes and commercial buildings around the world.
More recently, serving as the business manager for a local behavioral therapy center for children with autism. Six years ago, she and her son Sage, who is now 14, returned from New Mexico to join her three other siblings, and their families, to care for their father and live on the 52-acre farm they grew up on in Plumstead Township. Ventresca earned a BA from the University of California-Davis, where she majored in social-cultural anthropology with an emphasis on African Studies.
“I’ve been blessed and privileged over the years to have jobs that serve the greater good,” says Ventresca, who enjoyed visiting the Preserve as a teenager. “This position at the Preserve, a place that is so committed to the preservation and stewardship of the environment, feels like a really good fit. Even in the dead of winter, it’s great to see all the birds and plants, like green ferns, popping up.”
Sarah Norris joined the Preserve as Director of donor and Partner Relations in June 2021. With a diverse career spanning healthcare, hospitality and nonprofit, Sarah’s expertise will drive fiscal growth, community partnerships and visibility for the Preserve.
For the last 8 years, Sarah served as Director of Sales for ACCESS Philadelphia, the city’s premiere destination management and event planning specialists. Sarah has served in fundraising leadership roles for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Muscular Dystrophy Association, and has represented two major healthcare companies: DePuy Synthes (formerly Synthes) and The Advisory Board Company. Norris earned her BA from Loyola University in Maryland where she majored in communications with an emphasis in public relations. She is a seasoned public speaker, writer and designer but she loves being a mom most and exploring Bucks County and beyond with her daughter Neve, 7, and son Malcolm, 5.
“To live and work in beautiful Bucks County is such a blessing,” says Norris. “I’ve grown up with a deep appreciation for nature and all things outdoors. Coupled with my deep-rooted passion for building authentic relationships, my development work at the Preserve is not only exciting but truly inspiring. I look forward to fostering greater awareness and connectivity to the Preserve’s uniquely important mission.”
After a successful career as Director of Design and Quality control for a garment label manufacturer, Glenn decided to pursue his passion for horticulture when the textile company moved operations overseas. After taking every horticulture related class he could find at Rutgers, he earned a certificate of Landscape Management. On the last day of his Plant Identification class Glenn approached his professor, Steven Kristoph, who owned a wholesale nursery, and offered to work as a volunteer to gain experience. Instead, he was offered a part time job which quickly grew into a full-time career. Continuing his education, Glenn became an ASHS Certified Horticulturist through Longwood Gardens.
Glenn went on to work as both a propagator and nursery manager for RareFind Nursery, and then served as Horticulture and Design Manager at Rutgers Nursery & Landscape.
Since moving to beautiful Hunterdon County NJ to be closer to his grandchildren, it has been Glenn’s dream to work for the nursery at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve. Glenn is honored to finally have the opportunity to join an amazing team and fulfill that dream.
“I am passionate about native plants, gardening for wildlife, birds, insects, and the relationships that exist between them. I am working to increase the biodiversity on my two acres of land by removing lawn and adding extensive native plantings. I love growing native plants and educating people on their attributes and benefits. Working at Bowman’s Hill allows me to do all of that and more.”
Marissa joined the Preserve staff in June 2021 and manages all of the Preserve's marketing and external communications. After graduating from Unity College in 2012 with a BA in Environmental Writing, Marissa began fostering working relationships with local nonprofits, including Heritage Conservancy in Doylestown. She fell in love with conservation and went on to complete her MS in Sustainable Natural Resource Management in 2020. With a dedication to storytelling and environmental awareness, her ultimate goal is to connect people with their wild heritage.
“I’m very lucky that natural areas I grew up exploring are still intact thanks to organizations like Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve,” says Smith, born and raised in Bucks County. “Ensuring the ecological integrity of our home is vital. There are always stories beginning and ending in nature, and I’m excited to share the Preserve’s tales, be they blooming flowers or hawks nesting in the meadows.”