Richard “Dick” Conant
Board Director, Personnel Committee Chair, Griswold Town Committee Chair
Dick Conant has an undergraduate degree in Biology and Environmental Studies from Colby College and a Master’s of Science degree in Marine Science from Long Island University. He worked for 33 years in the Federal government as a marine/wetland biologist with the National Park Service, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers before moving to southeast Connecticut in 1993 to manage environmental programs and supervise the Environmental Department at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton CT.
Since retirement from federal service, Dick has volunteered his time with the Avalonia Land Conservancy, serving on the Board of Directors, chairing the Development Committee, and managing the Avalonia Griswold Town Committee. He also sits on the Board of the Groton Parks Foundation and volunteers as a trail steward at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Stonington. Since 2021, he has chaired the Groton Shellfish Commission. In his spare time, Dick is an avid reader and a life-long runner, skier and mountain hiking/climbing enthusiast.
Scott Dawley has a degree in forest technology from Unity College in Maine. He has worked for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for 34 years and currently holds the position of eastern district operations supervisor in the Parks & Forest division. Scott is a member of four Avalonia committees: Acquisition, Communications and Outreach, Stewardship, and the Griswold Town Committee.
James Neil Duncan
Board Vice President, Stewardship Committee Chair
Neil and his wife came to the USA from the UK in 1996, moved to Ledyard in 2003, and became US citizens in 2015. Neil earned PhDs in both chemistry and biochemistry from the University of Liverpool, UK, which prepared him for a career at Pfizer. He retired in 2017 after 35 years of working in the fields of metabolism and toxicology.
Neil grew up in a very rural part of England. He credits his father, a horticulturalist and arborist, with teaching him to appreciate the environment and understand the importance of protecting and preserving important local habitats.
In recent years, Neil and his wife have enjoyed creating a garden comprised of numerous rare and unusual perennials, shrubs and trees to sustain natural wildlife habitats for birds and pollinating insects. They enjoy hiking in local preserves as well as taking vacations in the Northeast US (particularly Acadia and other parts of Maine) and abroad to Australia and New Zealand. They marvel at the flora and natural history of these countries. Trees and flowering shrubs are Neil’s main interests in the plant kingdom; he feels fortunate to have great collections of maples, oaks, firs and spruces in our area.
As chair of Avalonia’s Ledyard Town Committee, Neil has been involved in multiple stewardship activities. The preservation of key habitats is essential to Neil for countless reasons, including providing access to these important areas for interested members of the public.
Director of Stewardship
With over two decades of experience, Toby brings an understanding of ecological and stewardship principles to his work at Avalonia, as well as a portfolio of field skills. He holds a B.S. in Environmental Studies from Northland College and a Masters in Botany from Connecticut College. He is an ESA certified ecologist and recently earned a graduate certificate in Environmental GIS.
Toby began his career, in the Upper Midwest, in a series of field intensive positions with the Great Lake Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, and US Forest Service. In 1997, he began work at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, rising to the position of senior researcher. Subsequent positions include Land Management Coordinator for the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and classroom science instructor at Norwich Free Academy.
Prior to joining Avalonia, Toby was the co-director of a digital humanities project at Yale University for nearly a decade, where his work emphasized collaboration, education, outreach, and project management between the institution and indigenous communities. His research areas included ethnobotany, historical Native and colonial land use, and changes in land tenure over time in southern New England.
Mark is a life-long resident of the Mystic-Stonington area and is retired from the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant where he worked as a senior financial analyst. He loves the outdoor life and is an avid boater, fisherman, golfer, and hiker and enjoys landscaping and gardening too. Mark has been an Avalonia Stonington Town Committee member for several years and recently became a member of the Communication and Outreach Committee.
Chris Houlihan has been a partner in the NYC law firms of Galef & Jacobs and Putney, Twombly, Hall & Hirson and is now Of Counsel in the NYC office of Bond Schoeneck & King. Over the years, he has been a corporate litigator with a strong corporate practice representing businesses and counseling foundations, trusts, and other not-for-profit entities.
In 2022, the Stonington Board of Selectman appointed Chris to the newly formed Flood Prevention, Climate Resilience and Erosion Control Board and he serves as the Board Secretary.
He is a former vice-president and trustee of the Historic Stonington (formerly the Stonington Historical Society) where he led the restoration of the Palmer House Icehouse and the HMS Nimrod cannon, as well as issues with the Lighthouse Museum.
He is a former commodore of the Watch Hill Yacht Club where he planned and carried out restoring the clubhouse after Superstorm Sandy, the demolition and rebuilding of the beach cabanas, and the raising of the clubhouse to withstand future storms. He worked with the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council to carry out goals for flood prevention and erosion control, as well as planning for the enactment of the Westerly Harbor Management Plan and local dredging issues.
For the past twenty years, Chris has been a trustee of Suffield Academy where he serves on the Executive Committee, the Budget, Finance and Audit Committee, and chairs the Long Range Planning Committee.
Chris is a lifelong sailor. He and his wife, Nancy, live in Stonington.
Board Director, Communications Committee Chairperson
Sharon Lynch retired as Professor Emerita from the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. She specialized in secondary science education and doctoral studies, focusing on STEM education research and reform. She also holds an appointment as Research Professor at the George Washington Institute for Public Policy.
Sharon has undergraduate and master’s degrees in biology. She has taught high school biology, environmental education, and chemistry, as well as middle school science. Lynch has worked as a program officer for the National Science Foundation from 2008-2010 and 2018-2020 in the Division of Research on Learning in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources.
She has moved to Stonington, CT in 2018 and lives in Stonington Borough with her husband Peter Perenyi. She is a member of the Avalonia Stonington Town Committee, and collaborated with Dr. Juliana Barrett of UCONN and Beth Sullivan to write the Long Island Future Fund Right Trees Right Time project at Avalonia’s Hoffman Evergreen Preserve. Sharon is also currently a member Stonington Climate Change Task Force, and is on the Board of La Grua Center.
Board President, Northern Town Committee Chair, Finance Committee Chair
Dennis S. Main has an MBA with a concentration in finance and accounting from UCONN and experience as an auditor and as a financial manager with the State of Connecticut. He has served 4 terms as President of Avalonia Land Conservancy, Inc. and is the current Finance Committee and Northern Towns Committee Chairs. He is also licensed in Connecticut as a real estate broker and has contracted for forestry management projects with the U.S.D.A. He and his wife, Renee, reside at Mainagery Farm in Bozrah, an e-Bird hotspot. He has served on Bozrah’s Inland Wetlands and Conservation Commission, Board of Finance, and most recently chaired the Board of Assessment Appeals. As both a Connecticut and Florida Audubon Society (Sarasota and Venice Chapters) member, Dennis enjoys birding, as well as forestry, gardening, and golf in both the North and South.
Maria Miranda is the principal and chief creative officer of Miranda Creative, Inc., an award-winning brand management firm with primary offices in Norwichtown, Connecticut. A proud graduate of the University of Connecticut with dual degrees in marketing and design, Maria established her company in 1988 at the age of 23 — three months after receiving her degree. Over the decades that followed, Maria welcomed clients, colleagues, and the community until achieving a milestone of 35 years in 2023 with a thriving team of more than 30 talented brand managers.
Maria was honored in 2014 as the 64th Annual Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. She is a frequent public speaker, including TEDx Talks, and is an adjunct professor at Connecticut State Community College Three Rivers.
Ukiah Pastor is Avalonia’s office administrator and supports our office manager, Mary Anne Sherman. Ukiah’s experience includes project management, bookkeeping, and customer database management.
Ukiah lives in Groton. She’s an avid snowboarder who loves cooking from scratch.
Board Secretary, Governance Committee Chairperson
Elanah has been involved in the disability rights movement for about thirty-five years. In numerous positions, both paid and volunteer, she has provided Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance guidance to private nonprofits, municipalities, and agencies of State government. She also has been an advocate for legislative agendas that support the civil rights of people with disabilities. Her special interests include access to the arts and the outdoors.
In collaboration with the then-Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Elanah organized a grassroots advocacy project called Out-Of-Doors that paired State park personnel with local people with disabilities. For about 20 years (and counting!), she has served on the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection-affiliated Open Space, Natural Heritage, and Watershed Land Acquisition Review Board as the point person on disability-related matters, a position mandated by state statute. (She is currently Secretary of the Review Board.) Elanah is also a member of the Trust for Public Land (Connecticut Chapter) Advisory Board.
To Elanah, being elected to the Avalonia Board represents an enormous privilege and a tremendous opportunity. She is working with Avalonia on developing a disability access agenda that is seamlessly integrated into all programs and activities. A resident of Norwich, she has an equally strong interest in seeing Avalonia establish a greater presence in distressed communities.
In the non-environmental domain, Elanah is a graduate of Trinity College (CT) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Religion. She is an enthusiastic hiker (generally accompanied by her two dogs); a participant in the national FrogWatch citizen-scientist program (yes, she crushes on frogs); a follower of anything and everything arts-related; and a library volunteer who organizes events related to arts and social history.
Mary Anne Sherman
Mary Anne is a native new Englander who has lived in Connecticut since 2003. A professional jeweler, she draws much of her inspiration from nature and especially the water. She has worked with non-profits for over 20 years, first as part of the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery of Westerly, RI (where she served variously as sales bookkeeper, regional show chairperson, and president) and most recently as an assistant bookkeeper at Sacred Heart School in Groton.
Elizabeth “E” Sorensen
E spent 45 years in human resources, holding corporate (Aetna, Pfizer) and nonprofit/NGO (Transatlantic Partners Against AIDS in Moscow, and the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria) positions. As head of HR for Pfizer’s Groton/New London Labs, E’s work focused on team effectiveness, performance enhancement, leadership and employee development, employee relations, executive staffing, and business realignment.
In her several years volunteering with Avalonia, E has been involved in stewardship activities as well as administrative office support. She is a member of Avalonia’s Groton Town Committee and the Communications and Outreach Committee. She and her husband, Peter, live in Mystic.