Board of Trustees

From left to right: Walter Clark,  Cobb Milner, Ann Baker, Ann Browning, Zika Rea, Meagan Phillips, Chris Bensen, Steve Wylie, Sonny Church (Not Pictured: Tim Gupton, John Cooper, John Sherrill, Larry Trivette)

From left to right: Walter Clark,  Cobb Milner, Ann Baker, Ann Browning, Zika Rea, Meagan Phillips, Chris Bensen, Steve Wylie, Sonny Church (Not Pictured: Tim Gupton, John Cooper, John Sherrill, Larry Trivette)


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.


tim gupton, Treasurer

Tim Gupton fell in love with the High Country after meeting his spouse,  Brent Moore,  who had a second home in Blowing Rock.   The outdoor life style, cool summer temperatures and the miles of green converted him from a lifetime of beach living.  He and Brent relocated to Blowing Rock from Raleigh in 2015 after building a new home in the historic Mayview neighborhood in Blowing Rock.   Tim first recognized the importance of land conservation after visiting Old Orchard Creek Farm and began to understand that the miles of green cannot be taken for granted.  Tim and Brent also enjoy living in Fort Lauderdale during the winter months.

Tim grew up in Henderson, NC and moved to Fort Lauderdale, FL for 20 years following graduation from UNC Chapel Hill where he was a partner with KPMG. He returned to NC in 1992 as  a senior partner with Hughes Pittman & Gupton, LLP in Raleigh.  Tim retired from HPG in 2015 and remains an active partner with HPG Wealthcare Advisors, LLC.  Brent is a real estate broker and they share an interest in architecture and real estate.

Tim enjoys hiking, collector cars, contemporary art, traveling and reading.   The family includes three adult children and four grandchildren, all who love visiting Blowing Rock.


Chris Bensen

A native North Carolinian, Dr. Bensen received both his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed residency training at the Medical University of South Carolina during which he received the prestigious Charles H. Herndon Award from the national Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation for his research on bone grafts. Following his residency, he returned to UNC for a Sports Medicine and Shoulder Surgery fellowship during which he served as an assistant team physician for the Tar Heels. 

Dr. Bensen served as a team orthopaedic surgeon for Appalachian State University and currently for Lees-McRae College and Avery High School. Dr. Bensen joined Boone Orthopaedic Associates in 2006 and currently resides in Blowing Rock. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and fly fishing.  


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.


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

Meagan was born and raised in Raleigh, NC. She moved to Boone, her mother's hometown, in 2004 to attend Appalachian State University. Growing up she spent time visiting the High Country where she learned the history of her family members and their contributions to the part of the state she now calls home. 

Her family have been active members in the High Country and ASU for several generations. Her passion for giving back comes honestly, as it is ingrained in her roots. As the fourth generation of her family to attend ASU, she adds to the legacy that has spanned decades. 

Meagan earned a bachelor's degree in Communication with concentrations in Law and Finance and a minor in International Business. She worked in the Office of Admissions and in the Reich College of Education before leaving ASU to work for her family. Her family's history with private farm and forest land management, as well as property management, has taught her the importance of responsible development. She believes land conservation and stewardship are vital components to responsible growth and sustainable practices, to help ensure the quality of life for current and future generations. 


John Sherrill

John's family farm adjoins Doughton Park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Alleghany County. Once just a summer cabin, the farm has become their full time home. They raise cattle on the open pastures which are surrounded by hardwood forests, laurel, and rhododendron. With the constant pressures to subdivide or develop mountain land, John is appreciative that there are organizations like Blue Ridge Conservancy to help preserve farms like his for future generations. 


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.


Steve WYlie

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.