Log Cabin by Nathan Yarborough

Board Of Directors

Mark Healey (President)

Knoxville, TN

Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in Forest Resource Management from West Virginia University. During his 33-year career as a forester he has worked for Georgia Pacific Corporation, the United States Marine Corps, and the US Forest Service.  In 2021, Mark retired from the Cherokee National Forest after dedicating 11 years of service on the forest leadership team, as the Fire and Natural Resources Staff Officer. Raised in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC, he developed a deep appreciation for the outdoors from an early age, engaging in activities such as hiking, camping, backpacking, swimming, and snow skiing. During his leisure time, Mark enjoys working on various projects around the house, indulging in whitewater kayaking, and even embracing the thrill of hang gliding. His tenure with the Cherokee National Forest is a source of great honor and privilege for him, and he looks forward to continuing its commitment to the stewardship of this national treasure in his new role with the Friends of the Cherokee National Forest.

Mark Healey

Melissa Woody

Cleveland, TN

Melissa, a proud native of Bradley County, Tennessee, completed her education journey with a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and a master’s degree in communications from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. After seven years at Bradley Memorial Hospital, she transitioned to the role of Vice President of Tourism and Development at the Cleveland Bradley Chamber of Commerce. Throughout her impressive 23-year tenure at the Chamber, Melissa has skillfully nurtured meaningful connections with community partners, further enhancing her invaluable contributions to the region.

Melissa Woody

Leslie Auriemmo

Tellico Plains, TN

Leslie Auriemmo received a Bachelor of Science in Forestry from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a Master of Science in Forest Resources from the University of Minnesota in Saint Paul, and a Juris Doctorate with High Distinction from The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. She began her federal career as an attorney with the USDA Office of General Counsel in Milwaukee representing the Eastern Region of the Forest Service specializing in environmental litigation, property law and tort law.  After 15 years of practicing law in Milwaukee, Leslie, her husband, and children moved to Cleveland, Tennessee where she served as the Deputy Forest Supervisor of the Cherokee National Forest from 2005-2014.  In 2014, she was promoted and moved to northern Michigan to serve as the Forest Supervisor of the Huron Manistee National Forests.  But upon retirement in 2022, Leslie and her husband were drawn back to the beautiful mountains of East Tennessee where they currently reside.  Leslie enjoys kayaking and hiking on the Cherokee National Forest, and wants to continue to be involved in Forest Service conservation efforts.  She also continues to teach personal civil and criminal liability to federal employees, as well as serving as a Type 1 Public Information Officer on large wildfires mostly in the western United States.

Leslie Auriemmo

Jeff Richards

Shady Valley, TN

Jeff, a proud Chattanooga native, obtained his bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. After a long and illustrious career as the Southeast District Environmental Program Manager for Colonial Pipeline Company, he has retired and now runs his own consultancy firm specializing in emergency response planning and training. Having served as a board member and past president of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, Jeff’s commitment to environmental conservation is evident. Currently, he holds the position of president at the Appalachian Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society. Jeff’s diverse range of interests include upland bird hunting, hiking, fly fishing, white water and flat-water paddling, backpacking, camping, guitar, and banjo. Shady Valley is where he calls home, embracing the natural beauty of the area while pursuing his passions.

Jeff Richards

 Dr. Ellis Bacon (Treasurer)S

Happy Valley, Tallassee, TN

Ellis, a Tennessee native, spent his formative years on a small farm north of Chattanooga. His academic journey led him to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he successfully earned both his BS and PhD degrees. For his doctoral research, Ellis dedicated four years to the in-depth study of Black Bear behavior in the picturesque landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Following his academic pursuits, Ellis took on pivotal roles in environmental education and conservation. He served as the program director for the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and later contributed his expertise as the project manager for the Tennessee Valley Authority Youth Conservation Corps.

In 1982, Ellis co-founded the South’s Finest Chocolate Factory in Knoxville, embarking on a three-decade-long journey as a distinguished chocolatier and business owner. Additionally, he is the proud proprietor of Graybear Renovation and Design.

Throughout his career, Ellis has been actively involved in community and philanthropic endeavors. He served as the president of the Knoxville Tourist Bureau, contributed as a board member to the National Kidney Foundation, and dedicated extensive time as a board member of the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Even after retiring from the chocolate industry, Ellis continued his commitment to conservation as the founding member and acting volunteer executive director of the Katmai Conservancy, the philanthropic partner of Katmai National Park in Alaska.

A long-time resident of Happy Valley in Blount County, Tennessee, Ellis resides on the border of the Great Smokies, where his passion for nature and community engagement continues to shape his impactful legacy.

Dr Ellis Bacon

Zack Ridder

Chattanooga, TN

Zack Ridder is a long-time resident of Tennessee, residing in the municipality of Hixson. Both a current student and an alumnus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), Zack has earned undergraduate degrees in History and Economics, graduate degrees and certificates in Business Administration, Public Administration, and Nonprofit Management, and is currently an all but dissertation PhD candidate in Leadership and Decision-Making.

Professionally, Zack is an Academic Advisor at the UTC in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Previously, he has also worked with incoming freshmen students in the Center for Academic Support and Advisement, and in the Office of the University Registrar.

During his studies in Public Administration, Zack joined the board of Scenic City Clay Arts (SCCA) in Chattanooga to learn more about the nonprofit sector. Zack found he enjoyed the work so much that he stayed on the board for 5 years, 2 of which he served as board president, and he remains deeply interested in furthering the work of nonprofits in his area.   

A special thanks to our former board members whose invaluable conributions have made Friends of the Cherokee National Forest a success.

Michelle Evans, PhD

Parker Street