BRC Board


Ann Browning, President

Ann is a native North Carolinian, having grown up in High Point.  She developed a love for the North Carolina mountains thanks to frequent childhood visits.  She and her husband, Ric, enjoy gardening, fishing, and doing projects on their property in Ashe County.

Ann’s first career in banking spanned 23 years with Bank of America (originally NCNB) where she was involved with corporate banking, investment banking and private equity investing.  When she chose to pursue a second career, she wanted to focus her efforts on preserving the natural resources and character of her native North Carolina.  She become involved with the Catawba Lands Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land in Charlotte.  When the Carolina Thread Trail, a 15 county initiative to connect trails, open space and regional attractions, was being planned, she joined as the first full time staff person.  As the Carolina Thread Trail Director,  she worked on community outreach, branding, public and private fund raising, and the development and oversight of The Thread’s community grants program.  She retired after seven wonderful years with The Thread to spend more time in the mountains and in Davidson, NC.  She sees land conservation as a critical element in ensuring that the High Country remains a healthy and attractive place to visit, work, and play. Ann earned her bachelor’s degree from Davidson College, where she currently serves on the Board of Trustees, and her MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Zika Rea, Vice President

Zika is the President and Co-Founder of the ZAP Fitness Foundation and Director of ZAP Fitness. Zika and her late husband, Andy Palmer, moved to Blowing Rock in 2002 and founded the running focused nonprofit. ZAP Fitness is a training center for Elite Runners and includes programs and running camps for recreational runners. While the ZAP facilities were being built in 2002, Zika earned a master’s degree in Exercise Science from Appalachian State University. Zika originally hails from the suburbs of St. Louis and she attended Emory University where she earned a B.S. in Biology. Zika lives in Blowing Rock with her husband Pete Rea who is the Elite Athlete Coach and Coordinator at ZAP Fitness. They have two children.

Ann Baker, Secretary

Ann Baker, of Crossnore, NC, has deeply-rooted connections to the land in northwest North Carolina. Ann spent many summers in the home her Great Grandfather built in Blowing Rock overlooking the Globe Valley and has vivid memories of enjoying the smells of the moss in the Rhododendron woods and the purity of the air instilling in her a respect for clean air and water.

Ann and her husband, Charlie, have three children. Ann enjoys being outside, hiking, swimming, boating, and gardening. When she’s not enjoying her time outdoors, Ann manages a Christmas tree farm and teaches fine arts students at The Crossnore School, Mayland Community College, and Penland School of Crafts. Ann has her own art studio and has managed the Fine Arts Gallery at The Crossnore School. Ann also devotes her time to improving her community through Crossnore’s non-profit organization and serves on advisory boards at Warren Wilson’s Environmental Leadership Center and The Avery Partnership for People at the End of Life.

Steve Wiley, Treasurer

My husband and I first discovered Ashe County in 2002 while visiting family who had rented a mountain home for an extended summer vacation.  We quickly fell in love with the area and within two months of this first visit, we had purchased a log cabin overlooking the New River.   Even though we were living and working in Charlotte, we spent almost every weekend and vacation in our cabin and cherished the time we were able to spend here.

In 2006 we purchased 26 acres of land in Todd that had already been protected by conservancy easements.  Over time, we expanded our holdings to encompass 80 acres of conserved land.  In 2010, we built a home on the property and relocated full time to the High Country.  We consider ourselves quite lucky, indeed, to be able to call this part of the world our home.

A native North Carolinian, I was introduced to the NC mountains at a very early age with frequent family camping trips to the Smoky Mountains and other natural areas throughout the eastern US.  My attraction to the mountains grew after college when I spent two years living in Lake Tahoe in the California Sierra Nevada mountains.  After a 25 year career in the apartment development and management business, I knew I wanted to put my work experience and personal passions towards protecting land in the High Country.  My affiliation with the Blue Ridge Conservancy provides me with that opportunity.  I truly value working with like-minded people throughout the area to do what we can to preserve this special part of the world.

Chris Bensen

Sonny Church

Sonny lives in his native community of Wilkesboro, North Carolina where he owns and operates Brushy Mountain Water Company and Creative Reclamation. While growing up in Wilkes County, Sonny was drawn to the woods and streams near his home and learned at an early age to appreciate the adaptability and diversity of nature. Sonny earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology at Appalachian State University and considers himself a life-long learner. Sonny enjoys the opportunities his life offers him to meet new people and gain new experiences.

Sonny is also very active in his community. He volunteers his time with the Yadkin Valley Greenway Council, the Wilkes County Heritage Museum, and participates in the “Lunch Buddy” program at the Wilkes County Schools. Sonny believes that efforts such as Wilkes County’s greenway development and BRC’s land and water protection have permanent and positive impacts from which future generations can benefit. Land protection, including greenways, can be an important tool as we strive to find balance between land and resource conservation and the commercial and residential development that comes with a community’s growth.


John Cooper

John is the former president and founder of the Mast General Store, Inc. John and his wife, Faye, have one daughter, Lisa Martin. Lisa is the Vice President of Mast General Store Inc. John enjoys hiking and biking and volunteers his time extensively. He has served on numerous community, regional and statewide boards as member and officer. Currently, John is working with a group trying to save and restore the Appalachian Theatre in Boone and is a member of Boone Sunrise Rotary.

John’s history with Blue Ridge Conservancy goes back many years and includes the donation of conservation easements to protect the beautiful community of Valle Crucis. Through Mast General Store, Inc. John also established Land Trust Day on the first Saturday of June each year, which directly supports BRC. John is committed to land protection in the High Country.

Deb Covington

Deb Covington joined Appalachian State University’s Office of the Chancellor in July 2015.  In this role, she focuses on branding, marketing, and engagement initiatives.  Prior to joining the staff at Appalachian, she held several senior marketing leadership roles for more than 15 years with Wachovia Corporation.

Upon moving to the mountains, she was immediately moved by the people and their commitment to this special place. She hopes to be part of the future by helping the BRC and the local area.  Deb and her husband James reside in Blowing Rock.

Deb holds an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in accounting.  In addition, she is a graduate of the Kenan Flagler School of Wachovia Executive Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Since leaving Wells Fargo/Wachovia and prior to joining Appalachian State University Debbie has served as a business consultant, career consultant and personal coach.  She also attended the French Culinary Institute while living in New York City.

Susan Hambright

Susan lives in Blowing Rock and has a farm in Avery County that is in a conservation easement. She fell in love with the mountains when she lived in Idaho in the late 1970’s and has seen the need to protect our land ever since. Knowing that uncontrolled development would destroy our lands and natural habitat, she has been an advocate for saving our resources for future generations. It is her way of “paying it forward” to people yet to come. She is a CPA and has served on several non profit boards over the years, and is currently a guardian ad litem where she advocates for at risk children in court. Married to Bob for 36 years, they have 2 grown sons.

Cobb Milner

Cobb and his wife Cindy own and operate Gideon Ridge Inn, Bistro Roca and the New Public House & Hotel in Blowing Rock. A resident of the High Country since 1992, Cobb has an engineering degree from Union College (NY) and an MBA from the University of Chicago. In 1994, Cobb and Cindy took over control of Gideon Ridge where, working with Cobb’s parents, they expanded the operation and started the Restaurant at Gideon Ridge. In 2005, they bought and renovated the former Antlers Bar property and started Bistro Roca and in 2013, they bought and renovated the former Sunshine Inn property and started the New Public House & Hotel. Since 2008, Gideon Ridge has hosted the summer meeting and reception of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. In 2014, Cobb joined the board of directors of the Blue Ridge Conservancy. Cobb is an avid cyclist and he loves hiking, snow skiing, traveling and living in Blowing Rock.

Meagan Phillips

John Sherrill 

Larry Trivette

Larry is a High Country native who grew up in Todd, N.C., just outside of Boone. Larry is an avid outdoorsman with interests that include backpacking, trail running, hunting, and fly-fishing. During his 32-year career in the N.C. State Park system, Larry spent more than 20 years at Stone Mountain and Morrow Mountain State Parks. In 2004, Larry became the first permanent superintendent of Elk Knob State Park where he led a five-year effort to build an all-volunteer constructed trail to the summit of Elk Knob. The 1.9-mile trail is one of the most scenic and well-built trails in the High Country. Larry currently lives in Todd and he travels often to visit his three daughters all of whom work for various park systems throughout the country.


  • 828-264-2511 / P.O. Box 568 / 166 Furman Rd., Ste C / Boone, NC 28607 / Copyright 2013