Ryan joined The Greenway Foundation after working with Verizon Wireless for nine years. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2006 with a degree in communications. Before his current role at the helm, Ryan led development for Greenway and was responsible for expanding our capabilities and increasing support for the mission. He has a natural way of generating enthusiasm for the work we can accomplish on behalf of the river and our community. Originally from the small town of Rincon, Georgia, Ryan has lived in Colorado since 2006. Along with his wife, Faith, they love exploring Colorado with their two dogs Chip and Maya. Ryan is a huge Georgia Bulldog football fan and always looks forward to the college football season.
From the moment Ryan arrived in Denver he knew he loved this city and he is quick to share his excitement for how The Greenway Foundation allows him to give back. His mom was an elementary school teacher for over 40 years, so Ryan has a longstanding respect and admiration for education. Ryan often talks about Greenway’s role in impacting the future of our city—our youth, providing opportunities for everyone to engage with our river with no barriers. Ryan loves being able to interact with others who love our city and want to make it better.
The river in Ryan’s words: Growing up near the coast in south Georgia I was surrounded by water. Whether it was going to the beach with family and friends, visiting the lake every summer, or fishing and skiing in the Savannah River, I spent a lot of time in and around water. Soon after moving to Denver I realized just how much I missed it and could be quoted saying things like, “Man, if this place had a beach it would have everything!” Turns out it does. Working at The Greenway Foundation lets me see the best in people, in nature, and in our city and they’re all beautiful.
Phone:(303) 481-1974 ext 700
Board & Staff Advisor
Jeff’s love for the river and his community inspires everyone who meets him. As The Greenway Foundation’s Executive Director from 1982 through 2022, Jeff has connected with countless people to engage with our mission to Revitalize Rivers and Reconnect Communities. Under the course of his leadership, TGF partnered with numerous public and private organizations to collectively create over $500 Million of environmental and recreational improvements along the South Platte River and its numerous tributaries throughout the Metro Denver Area and beyond.
When Jeff’s father, Joe Shoemaker, founded TGF, he declared that “one day the greatest place to live, work and play in Denver will be along the South Platte River.” Although that was hard to imagine at the time, thanks to Jeff’s dedication to the river and his continuation of his father’s original vision through the work of The Greenway Foundation, that original dream is now a reality we all enjoy.
The river in Jeff’s words: Confluence Park, Greenway’s first project is my favorite place. And, if Confluence Park is my church, Shoemaker Plaza (named for my father, not me) is my sanctuary. Mere days before my father passed away, almost 10 years ago, we spent time on the plaza he constructed in 1975, now updated and dedicated in 2017. We watched hikers, joggers, kayakers, fly fishing enthusiasts —young, old, from everywhere and anywhere—all enjoying the riverfront. He smiled his big smile and shouted, as he often did when particularly happy – HOT DAMN! Whenever I’m having a day where my father is particularly deep in my heart, I stand next to the plaque with his name and we talk.
Shelley officially joined our team in November 2015. However, Shelley was part of the Greenway community much earlier through her involvement with SPREE as a Denver Public Schools teacher. Shelley received her undergraduate degree from Bates College and a master in education from the University of Colorado at Denver. As an educator, Shelley took her third, fourth and fifth graders on field trips along the South Platte River and began to get more and more involved with the work and mission of The Greenway Foundation over the years. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Shelley has always loved being by the water. As a mother of two, Shelley cherishes family bike rides along the South Platte that include visiting her favorite riverside park, Grant Frontier, skipping rocks in the river and searching for crawdads.
Shelley is an expert at juggling many responsibilities and staying focused on the task at hand and will tell you that her favorite part of working with Greenway is that no two days are ever the same.
The river in Shelley’s words: My true love for the South Platte River started when I was a teacher and took my students gold panning at Grant Frontier Park—watching kids connect with water and nature right in their own backyard. It doesn’t get any better than learning about where you live. Grant Frontier remains my absolute favorite park and access to the river in Denver. I now get to take my own kiddos there.
Phone:(303) 481-1974 ext 701
SPREE Grants & Partnerships Director
Rachel started at The Greenway Foundation as a seasonal educator before joining the SPREE team full time in March 2012. A Michigan native, Rachel began her career in environmental education working at the Kalamazoo Nature Center Camp during her summers home from college. She continued to pursue her interest in the environment at The University of Michigan, earning both a bachelor’s and master’s from the School of Natural Resources and Environment. Rachel relocated to Colorado in 2009, and has spent the past decade working on and overseeing Greenway’s education programs.
Rachel is a true Greenway champion, telling everyone how much she loves working with a group of people who are passionate about nature, truly care about our community, and are as much friends as co-workers. She loves the mountains and sunshine of Colorado, but as a former Michigander, water has always been an important part of her life.
The river in Rachel’s words: I’ve fallen in love with the South Platte River over the past decade plus, working for many years as a SPREE Educator searching for crawdads, panning for gold, testing water quality, and just having fun with countless children in our programs. Though I get less time in the water in my current position, I now get to bring my son to the river and see his joy discovering critters, tossing rocks, and just splashing around in the water.
Phone:(303) 481-1974 ext 702
Lauren Berent Burgess
Lauren started with The Greenway Foundation as a seasonal educator for SPREE Summer Camps in 2014. After three years as part of the education staff, she transitioned into coordinating community programs, fundraising events, and water programs. Lauren grew up in Michigan, and after attending the University of Michigan, she loves being able to put her BA and MS degrees in aquatic sciences and sustainable systems to work by serving our community. An adventurous spirit, Lauren enjoys exploring Colorado through hiking, camping, and snowboarding. She is dedicated to caring for our local waterways, and loves being part of a team that tackles this task everyday with passion and creativity.
The river in Lauren’s words: I grew up in Michigan and being near water is a key part of many of my childhood memories. When I moved to Colorado in 2013, I thought I was giving up swimming in lakes for hiking in the mountains. I explore the mountains every chance I get, but I am consistently drawn back to the water: hiking past an alpine stream, paddling around on a lake, or going for a walk along the South Platte River.
Phone:(303) 481-1974 ext 704
Julianne started with SPREE as a seasonal educator when she moved out to Colorado in 2016 and quickly became a full-time staff member later that year. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2013 with a degree in environmental studies, Spanish, and communication design.
Originally from New York, Julianne lived in Boston working at an online school for two years, and also worked for a community garden organization in St. Louis, leading student outdoors trips to the Ozark Mountains in Missouri and Arkansas. She loves climbing rocks and mountains, and is very proud of her chocolate chip cookie recipe. She loves getting outside and sharing the magic in our local (urban!) ecosystems. Julianne is committed to teaching kids about science and nature, and was happy to find others as excited as she is about native grasses and macros and birds of prey.
The river in Julianne’s words: The impact that the South Platte River has had on our city can’t be overstated. The unique connection between Denver and the river creates an incredible opportunity for learning about nature and ecosystems, but also about people and history. I think place-based education is not only a fun and an effective way to connect with learners, but a critically important form of teaching, and I’m so happy that I get to implement place-based learning on a daily basis through the South Platte.
Phone:(303) 481-1974 ext 704
Youth Programs Manager
Allie received her degree in environmental studies and geography from Augustana College before working in ecological conservation for forest preserves in the Chicagoland area. She grew up traveling and hiking with her family, which fostered her appreciation for the outdoors, and landed her in Denver in early 2019. She enjoys exploring with her dog Fin, taking pictures of flowers, and bringing her binoculars everywhere she goes. Allie is passionate about connecting people with nature, and Denver youth to their local environment.
Allie puts her full heart into the work and the team, and is just as passionate about the reason why we do it. She is a huge advocate for supporting each other and the community. Allie believes in fostering young people’s connection to our local environmental community in an urban space, and helps empower young minds to make a difference from exactly where they are.
The river in Allie’s words: The South Platte River and the undeniable relationship people have with water, no matter where they live, is so important to me. The place-based education that I get to share with our community through Greenway and SPREE is such inspiring, rewarding work. I feel grateful to be a part of it. Working along the river with Denver youth brings me so much joy and pride in our future, and my biggest hope is that through our work, there is an increase in accessibility to and care for our waterways and natural spaces throughout all of Colorado and beyond.
Phone:(303) 481-1974 ext 705
Burgundy began her Greenway career in 2020, as a seasonal educator teaching excursions along the river, then joining the camp team for SPREE summer camp in 2021. She is currently a graduate student studying conservation biology, focusing on indigenous voices in water conservation. Burgundy grew up on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where her love of water and nature was fostered through traveling the states with her grandparents. She enjoys painting, cooking, hiking, and exploring the mountains with her partner of 10 years and their many pets. Burgundy enjoys sharing her passion for the environment and our rivers with students across the Denver area and is looking forward to another great year with SPREE along the River. The Greenway Foundation mission closely aligns with Burgundy’s personal and professional passions—equity and inclusion, water conservation, community outreach, and education.
The river in Burgundy’s words: Water has always been an important aspect of who I am and I love working with a group of people who share the same passions. Working for this organization has given me the opportunity to grow as an educator, continue creating equitable outdoor spaces, and explore ways I can make an impact on our river and community.
Phone:(303) 481-1974 ext 706
Alexandra (Ali) Witonsky
Ali moved to Denver to attend the University of Denver, where she studied Spanish, international relations, and studio art. Post-grad, Ali joined the interpretation field at the Butterfly Pavilion, learning about how small invertebrates impact even the largest spaces. As a ranger at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Ali expanded her skills in the field and learned how to deal with much larger mammals. Ali joined Greenway to teach and share all about Colorado’s ecosystems, and loves continuing her own learning journey. She realized that the outdoors is where she feels most at home. She spent many fun childhood summers in the outdoors of suburban Philadelphia beekeeping, blacksmithing, and taking care of farm animals at a historic house. Ali is passionate about all of Colorado’s residents and loves sharing her knowledge with others.
The river in Ali’s words: I grew up exploring and learning about biodiversity in creeks, rivers, and bays on the east coast, and now love making discoveries in the South Platte River with kids from all around Denver. The SPREE team offers hands-on, or rather hands-in, river experiences every day, combining my passions for all things outdoors: critters, kids, and education.
A recent high school graduate, Destiny was born and raised in Colorado. She started off as a river ranger with SPREE in 2018 where she discovered her love for teaching and the environment. She was a river ranger for two summers and came back for a third summer working as a seasonal staff member. In her free time, you can usually find Destiny taking hikes with her family. She is an animal lover who has three dogs and a snake. Destiny loves following her passion in environmental education while having fun with participants in Greenway events. It’s her hope to bring her own multicultural perspective to SPREE and help high schoolers realize their goals in the environment.
The river in Destiny’s words: I grew up with a creek very close to my house. I remember being amazed by all of the different things I could find in a small creek. The Greenway Foundation introduced me to a river and I fell in love. There was so much to see and explore.
Jillian recently finished her degree at the University of Hilo – Hawaii, studying Environmental Studies and Geography. While living there, she was able to explore and study in all of the eleven different climates the Big Island has to offer. She focused her seminar studies on climate related data and has a passion for understanding community barriers to taking climate related action. Jillian recently moved back to Denver to join the Greenway team and is very excited to deepen her knowledge on Colorado’s natural resources!
Lexi is born and raised in Denver Colorado, she’s a unicorn, and even grew up hunting for crawfish and watching squirrels in the beautiful South Platte River! She graduated from Colorado State University in 2020 with a degree in Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and a minor in International Development Studies. Lexi has always loved growing up in the mountains, but she is also extremely passionate about marine conservation, and hopes to one day find herself living on a coast and protecting the wildlife out there. In her free time, you can find Lexi cross-country skiing, going for hikes, going to Red Rocks shows, spending as much time as she can with dogs, or enjoying the parks throughout Denver on a sunny day with friends. Lexi is so excited to be a part of SPREE and spend time along the river with amazing Denver kiddos!
Jack is new to The Greenway Foundation as an environmental educator. Growing up along the coast of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jack spent most of his free time outside exploring the parks and open spaces in his home town, fostering his appreciation and fascination with the outdoors. After graduating from Colorado State University in 2018 with a degree in Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, he continued his work with environmental non-profits and climate change research before landing in Denver with the Greenway Foundation. Jack is passionate about enhancing social well-being through the use of public spaces while promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors. In his free time, Jack loves to play rugby, cook, listen to live music, ski, and spend as much time as possible exploring the outdoors
Viet was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee where he was able to spend lots of his time venturing through the Great Smokey Mountains. East Tennessee also has lots of rivers and lakes that allows for plenty of swimming and kayaking. Viet loves being outdoors, but also found himself working with kids at summer camps during high school and doing community service in college. After graduating from the University of Tennessee with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Viet was able to join the team at The Greenway Foundation where he could blend his two passions of working with nature and working with people. SPREE presents a unique and exciting new adventure that satisfies everything he was looking for. Viet hopes to continue working for nonprofit and eventually would like to find himself in volunteer management.
Chief SPREE Force Agent, SPREE Mascot, Herbivore
Chompers the SPREEver
Chompers is a cool dude, foraging for his food, livin’ his life by the South Platte River. He has fur on his face, he loves that tree taste, leaving his mark all over the place. He will, he will, chomp you. Chompers became a member of the SPREE team on December 9th, 2004. He started out as a part time mascot and generally lovable guy. As the SPREE team started to realize that he was a straight shooter with upper management potential, Chompers took on a more active role for SPREE. In September of 2008, Chompers founded the SPREE Force to help keep the South Platte River clean from drain to stream.
The river in Chompers’ words: The river is everything to me! What could be better than making new friends who love it as much as I do?! Let’s have some fun! I can teach you how to keep my home clean and beautiful for all of us to enjoy.
SPREE Force Agent
Crusher the Crawdad
Crusher’s pretty cool, too, watch out he might pinch you, livin’ his life under one big rock. Crawdad, crayfish, call him what you wish, eatin’ dead leeches, his favorite dish. He will, he will, pinch you. Crusher is Chompers’ right-hand man, and he was the first to sign up as a Special Agent in the SPREE Force when Chompers first founded it. Since then he has been working hard to do his part to keep the South Platte River safe and clean. Chompers always looks for help from Crusher when he finds himself in a “pinch.”
The river in Crusher’s words: You might think my tastes run a little gross, but I assure you this river is the best place in all the world. Let me show you!
We encourage you to get in touch with our staff with any questions, comments, or compliments. If you’re not sure which member of our team can best help you, please use our contact form.
The Greenway Foundation depends on the support of our partners, donors, and sponsors to carry out our mission. These organizations make our work possible.