This task force consists of 20 members selected by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Explore Minnesota.
- Reinaldo Aponte, adventures director, The Loppet Foundation.
- Mary Bauer, registered nurse
- Steven JR Burke, director of government affairs, Polaris.
- Elliot Christensen, Assistant Tribal Planner and Grant Writer, Lower Sioux Indian Community.
- Megan Christianson, executive director, Visit Grand Rapids.
- Katy Friesz, corporate responsibility, Winnebago Industries.
- Matt Gruhn, president, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.
- Aaron Hautala, Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew.
- Breanne Hegg, vice president, programs for Girl Scouts River Valleys.
- Joe Henry, executive director, Lake of the Woods Tourism.
- Hansi Johnson, director, Recreational Lands for Minnesota Land Trust.
- Greg Lais, founder, director, strategic initiatives, Wilderness Inquiry.
- Perry May, director at large, All-Terrain Vehicle Association of Minnesota.
- Sarah Milligan-Toffler, executive director, Children and Nature Network.
- Mark Norquist, founder, Modern Carnivore.
- Stephen Regenold, founder and publisher, GearJunkie.com.
- Mollika Sajady, DO, MPH, University of Minnesota Health.
- Naomi Sam, coordinator and director, Cultural Resources for the Mille Lacs Band DNR.
- Asha Shoffner, founder, Fiwygin Outdoors.
- Steven Voltz, store manager, REI Roseville.
For the past 25 years, Ray Aponte has dedicated his existence to the development of youth. He continues to work with diverse students on their social, collaborative and leadership skills by leading various outdoor learning experiences. After receiving his Masters in Arts from Saint Thomas University, he became a Minneapolis School Principal for 29 years in high school, elementary, and K-8 schools. He is currently the Director of Adventure programming for The Loppet Foundation where he has partnered with nearby organizations to create a shared passion for outdoor adventure learning and programming for underserved youth and families.
Mary Bauer is a Registered Nurse turned outdoor enthusiast, passionate about how individuals and groups experience and impact our precious natural resources. After spending over 30 years in health care, Mary has learned how to combine her love of the outdoors into her everyday work; modeling positive health behaviors while encouraging coworkers and patients to experience the wonders of Minnesota’s outdoors. Mary is fueled by skiing, biking, hiking, walking Harrythedog; being a mom, grandma, and marathon canoe racer.
J.R. Burke currently serves as Director of State Government Affairs with Polaris, a Medina-based powersports company founded in 1954 in Roseau, Minnesota. An avid outdoorsman, J.R. enjoys spending time with his family and participating in the wealth of outdoor experiences that Minnesota has to offer, including camping, hiking, biking, skiing, canoeing, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, off-road riding, watersports and more. Representing one of Minnesota’s most-recognized outdoor recreation companies for over seven years, J.R. has worked to pursue public policy that advances multimodal outdoor recreational opportunities across North America. A lifelong Minnesotan, J.R. and his family live in Albertville. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from St. Cloud State University, Master of Arts in Public Administration from Hamline University and Juris Doctor from Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Elliot Christensen is Bdewakanton Dakota and resides within the boundaries of the Lower Sioux Indian Community in southwestern Minnesota. He takes pleasure in not only creating outdoor recreation opportunities, but also sharing cultural relevance of traditional outdoor activities.
Megan Christianson has been the Executive Director of Visit Grand Rapids since 2012. She has 20 years of marketing, public relations, and trade industry membership/advocacy experience. Megan was appointed by Governor Walz to serve as the NE Minnesota representative on the Explore Minnesota Tourism Council. She serves as Secretary on the Minnesota Arrowhead Committee and serves on the Mississippi River Parkway Commission and is a Blandin Foundation Community Leadership Alumni. Megan lives in Cohasset, Minnesota with her husband, Chad, and their two children, Madison, 19 and Caleb, 17. She enjoys being outdoors in Minnesota on the lake and trails.
Katy Friesz serves as executive director of the Winnebago Industries Foundation, working to inspire new generations of outdoor enthusiasts, mobilize resources to reach people in times of need, and support Winnebago Industries employees to build strong communities where we work, live and explore. Prior to joining Winnebago Industries Foundation, Katy held leadership roles in philanthropy and corporate responsibility at The Mosaic Company, Carlson Family Foundation, Ameriprise Financial, ADC Telecommunications, The Toro Company and Girl Scouts River Valleys. She serves as treasurer of the Minnesota Council on Foundations board of directors, on the University YMCA community board, and is a past president of the Corporate Volunteerism Council – Twin Cities. Katy enjoys nature, volunteering, foodie finds and a good belly laugh with her partner Jason, three kids, puppy and wonder cat.
A 20-plus-year veteran of the boating industry, Matt Gruhn is the President of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, a trade association representing boat sales and service retailers across North America and based here in Minnesota. Matt is an avid outdoorsmen, with hobbies that include boating, fishing, camping, hiking, and skiing among other outdoor pursuits.
A native of the Mesabi Iron Range, over the last nine years, Aaron Hautala has helped guide Cuyuna in becoming an international destination for human-powered recreation, including mountain bicycling, paved-trail bicycling, and paddle sports. Recently, Aaron and the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew successfully advocated in St. Paul for the necessary dollars to nearly complete the master vision for trails within the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. In addition to helping build the mountain bike identity in Minnesota, Aaron has also been actively involved in the development and promotion of fishing and year-round motorized trail riding in the Lake Mille Lacs, McGregor, and Mesabi Iron Range markets.
Breanne Hegg is the Vice President of Programs for Girl Scouts River Valleys and lives in Mendota Heights, Minnesota. She’s intensely engaged in outdoor recreation and passionate about increasing access to transformational outdoor experiences for all Minnesotans.
As Executive Director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, Joe Henry works closely with resorts and lodging facilities, Explore MN Tourism, MN DNR, area guides, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, politicians and a variety of stakeholders in the outdoor industry. He drives all marketing, advertising and special events for Lake of the Woods Tourism, is an active writer, appears in outdoor TV shows, produces outdoor videos, digital media and speaks about fishing and the outdoors across the Midwest.Joe is a licensed charter captain, has a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN and an MBA from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, OH.
Hansi Johnson lives in Thomson, Minnesota with his wife Margaret and son Tae. Hansi worked most of his career in the Outdoor Recreation Industry. For the past 10 years, he has been working as an Advocate to get more people outside to enjoy the amazing outdoor opportunities they have in the Upper Midwest. Currently, Hansi is employed by the Minnesota Land Trust.
Greg Lais has been active in Minnesota’s Outdoor Recreation industry for over 40 years. His passion is connecting people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to the outdoors. Greg founded Wilderness Inquiry in 1978, and has collaborated with many to build its programs including the Canoemobile, Gateway to Adventure, Outdoor Career Academy and Share the Adventure. Greg also teaches outdoor leadership at the University of Minnesota, and serves on the boards of the Metropolitan State University Foundation and the Friends of the Lock and Dam. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Patti Thurber.
Perry May is the All-Terrain Vehicle Association of MN, Director At Large. He is an avid hunter, fisherman, outdoor recreation enthusiast and volunteers with MN DNR Youth Safety Training, Youth Sports, and Adult Education to connect people to the great outdoors.
Sarah Milligan-Toffler is the Executive Director of the Children & Nature Network (C&NN), a nonprofit organization representing over 1,000 members and partners worldwide working to increase equitable access to the outdoors so that children and the natural world can thrive. Sarah is the recipient of the 2017 George B. Hartzog, Jr. Environmental Awards Program, Fran P. Mainella Award for sustained and innovative achievement by a woman in the management of North America’s natural, historic and cultural heritage and earned a Bachelor of Philosophy from Miami University.
Mark Norquist is the founder of Modern Carnivore. Through digital storytelling and other media channels this platform introduces adults to hunting, fishing and foraging activities. Mark was born and raised in Minnesota and is passionate about a wide variety of outdoor activities that span all four seasons. His professional background is in marketing and media and prior to starting his own company he was the Vice President of Business Development and Group Publisher at North American Media Group. Mark sits on the boards of Minnesota Land Trust and Minnesota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He lives in Minnetonka with his wife Patti and their two children.
Stephen Regenold is the Founder of GearJunkie.com, a Minneapolis-based publication focused on the outdoors, adventure, and gear. He is a journalist and a former writer for the New York Times. Stephen lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Tara, and their small children.
Molly Sajady, DO, MPH, is a board-certified pediatrician with additional sub-specialty fellowship training in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Molly is passionate about utilizing nature for promoting health and wellness for children and families through research, clinical, and educational collaborations. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, cycling, and paddling throughout Minnesota's beautiful nature recreation areas with her family.
Naomi Sam is the Cultural Resources Coordinator for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Department of Natural Resources. Naomi is an outdoors and fishing enthusiast who loves exploring Minnesota lakes and trails with family, and hopes to share this love with others. One of her favorite pastimes is harvesting from Minnesota’s vast abundance of natural botany. Miigwech (Thank you).
Asha Shoffner is the founder of ASHA Consulting and Fiwygin Outdoors, as well as the Environmental and Outdoor Education Program Coordinator for Saint Paul Parks and Recreation, and the LGBTQ liaison for the City of Saint Paul. As a queer, first generation immigrant with a disability, Asha has experienced a variety of barriers to recreating outdoors, and has committed her life’s work to connecting historically marginalized and underrepresented folks to nature in ways that are meaningful, accessible, sustainable and empowering. Asha drinks hot chai every morning, loves to spend time along the Mississippi River running on trails or floating in her canoe, frequently emails her colleagues with reminders to get outside, explores nearby nature with her three nephews, and finds a deep and profound value in the healing and restorative properties that spending time outdoors brings to her life and the lives of others.
Steven Voltz is a native Minnesotan who grew up and continues to spend as much time as possible in the woods, fields and lakes of Minnesota. He counts himself lucky to have a wife and two daughters who love to do the same. Steven works for REI and have spent the last 30 years with them helping to get people into the outdoors.