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Staff

Meet our Staff

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Ildiko Polony

Executive Director

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Ildiko grew up in apartment buildings in Oakland and did not have much access to nature as a child. Until discovering California native plants and habitat restoration, she focused her life on climate change activism and the pursuit of modern dance. 10 years ago, while a student at UC Berkeley, she planted a vegetable garden for the first time, and was overcome with how much life existed in her tiny San Francisco backyard. She asked herself what would happen if we tried to help this nature and how do you do it? This resulted in the epiphany that in order to foster local wildlife you must plant the plants that the wildlife evolved with, in other words, the plants native to your area. She became enamored with the flora of California. 

With this new found passion, she redirected her studies and received a Bachelor's of Science in Conservation and Resources Studies from UC Berkeley. Since then, she has worked at Larner Seeds as a seed amplifier, collector, and gardener, at Mission Blue Nursery as a Nursery Manager, at Literacy for Environmental Justice as a Nursery Manager, and now at Sutro Stewards as the Executive Director.

She is passionate about bringing the healing joy and satisfaction of participating in nature through habitat restoration to as many people as possible. Starting in our own backyards and moving outward to the greater community, she cherishes the opportunity to offer Mount Sutro as a place of engagement, healing, and community building through improving and maintaining access to the Mountain and working to enhance its biodiversity.

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Craig Dawson

Senior Program Advisor

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Craig Dawson is a San Francisco native who was raised in Forest Knolls, on the south side of Mount Sutro. Growing up here offered opportunities to explore Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson, and Glen Canyon on foot and by bicycle. He graduated from City College of San Francisco Horticulture Dept. with an Associate of Science in Landscape Design & Construction. 

 

In 1981 he opened a small business offering graphic design services, print production and sign, and display services in the Inner Sunset neighborhood, whereas a member of the Inner Sunset Merchants Association, he served six terms as President over a 25-year span. In 1991 he was asked to represent the Inner Sunset on the UCSF Community Advisory Group (CAG) where he initiated the development of the UCSF Open Space Reserve Management Plan (1998-2001). Craig worked with the CAG and UCSF to secure a $100,000 grant from the San Francisco Rotary Club in 2004 to restore a 2-acre former NIKE missile guidance site to a native plant meadow on the summit of Mount Sutro (Rotary Meadow). This was the beginning of his work on Mount Sutro which was followed by a trail improvement project led by The Trail Center that created new trail access to Rotary Meadow. 

 

In 2006 Craig worked with a small group of trail enthusiasts to uncover an undocumented, century old trail that was hidden for decades in the thick underbrush and running across the North and West sides of the mountain. In 2006 Craig co-founded the Sutro Stewards program and received permission from UCSF to restore the century-old trail, now called the Historic Trail. From 2006 to 2016 Craig served as Executive Director for the Sutro Stewards and used his training and trails knowledge to form a network of multi-use trails on Mount Sutro. 

 

Craig's formal training for trail work began in 2004 when he participated in Leadership and Trail Design and Construction training from the Trail Center. His training continued with the Tahoe Rim Trail Association (TRTA) for two annual sessions, 2008-2009, where he received a certificate for Advanced Trail Construction. Craig has contributed his knowledge and sweat to other organizations including VOCAL serving as a crew leader in San Francisco, Sonoma, and the East Bay. He worked with San Francisco's Rec and Park to open the Interior Greenbelt and rebuild the Lower Historic Trail on Mount Sutro, in conjunction with the development of the Philosophers Walk trail in McLaren Park, to name a few. As the Senior Program Advisor to the Sutro Stewards, Craig remains an avid runner and cyclist and is committed to advancing environmental education and building trails that link communities to nature.

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Ben Pease

Senior Trails Program Advisor

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Ben Pease is a founding member of Sutro Stewards, specializing in trail projects. He grew up in Massachusetts with a swamp in his backyard, but his family moved to San Francisco when he was 12, so he began exploring odd corners of the City on his way to and from school. He earned a BA in Architecture from UC Berkeley in 1986, and worked several years as an architect, but found his passion in mapmaking and trail advocacy. 

Ben has worked as a cartographer since 1994. He creates maps for guidebook publishers, authors, and park agencies. His local work includes maps for UCSF's Mount Sutro trail system, the Bay Area Ridge Trail guidebook, and San Mateo County Parks. He and his partner, Shizue Seigel, collaborated on Rebecca Solnit’s book Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. He publishes several detailed maps, including The Walker’s Map of San Francisco. (www.peasepress.com). 

An avid hiker and backpacker, Ben learned trail building with The Trail Center (1989-1994) and worked with fellow volunteers and city agencies to plan the route of the Bay Area Ridge Trail through San Francisco. He planned and co-led Coastwalk’s San Francisco group hikes for two decades. As a member of Sutro Stewards, he has mapped the existing trails and helped survey and build many improvements, with a focus on the proper gradient, cross-slope, and materials, plus teaching trail skills to volunteers.

 

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Dan Bernards

Trail Program Manager

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Dan has worked with the Sutro Stewards as a volunteer since 2011 and as the Trails Program Manager since 2015. Dan received his hands-on trails skills and Crew Leader training through the Sutro Stewards program. In addition to coordinating crew leaders and volunteers on conventional trail repairs, he has facilitated a variety of trail improvements, realignments, and constructions, most notably the design and construction of the Clarendon Trail. Dan is an avid cyclist and trail user, and he has also been active with other local trail maintenance and construction efforts in San Francisco led by the San Francisco Parks & Recreation and San Francisco Urban Riders.

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Abbi Alfonso

Nursery Program Manager

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As a native San Franciscan, Abbi’s excitement for nature was fostered early on by exploring the limited green spaces throughout the city. From spunky California ground squirrels at Candlestick to Glen Canyon’s elusive Great Horned Owls to the diversity of plant communities of San Bruno Mountain; these experiences allowed her to develop a deep connection and appreciation for the intersection of humans and wildlife that she now strives to share with others.

 

Since then, she’s gone on to volunteer in habitat restoration and community advocacy with organizations around the Bay Area and the Central Valley such as the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Literacy for Environmental Justice, and California Waterfowl Association before earning a Bachelors of Science from the University of California, Davis in Wildlife Conservation Biology. Abbi began her professional career as an academic researcher for a UCD laboratory studying the population ecology of California threatened and federally endangered fish species of the San Francisco Bay Estuary. As a woman of color working in the outdoors, while exciting, left Abbi feeling isolated and marginalized due to the lack of representation of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BiPOC) communities. Returning to her Southeast San Franciscan roots in 2019, Abbi joined Literacy for Environmental Justice as an outdoor educator, native plant propagator specialist, and community programs coordinator promoting equitable access to open space and engaging communities of color in culturally relevant ways to nurture their connection with nature.

 

Abbi holds her identity as a woman of color, environmental justice, and community advocacy at the center of her work. She is excited to join Sutro Stewards as the Native Plant Nursery Manager and continue her work restoring native plant habitat and creating equitable access to Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve for people of all backgrounds.

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Kelly Dodge

Conservation Program Manager

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Kelly Dodge has been working for Sutro Stewards since October of 2019. Prior to becoming a staff member, Kelly was an intern with Sutro Stewards starting in September of 2018. Kelly has not only enjoyed getting to know and protect the plants and animals that call Mount Sutro home but also all the volunteers and partners who have dedicated their time to Sutro Stewards’ mission. 

 

Kelly studied at San Francisco State University and received her Bachelors of Science in environmental studies with a concentration in natural resource conservation and management. During her time at State, she developed her knowledge of the San Francisco Bay Area ecology and land management. Her time at SF State deepened her love for fieldwork, the outdoors, and her pursuit of an environmental career. 

 

A California local, Kelly grew up in Orange County, where she had regular access and enjoyment of a large wilderness park and the well-kept beaches of Southern California. These places helped shape her deep appreciation and connection to nature, specifically in regard to Californian wildlife. Her childhood tendency to explore has not been lost. In her free time, Kelly enjoys traversing new hiking trails around the bay area with her camera in tow. She loves seeing and capturing all the different plant species are growing along the way. Or she'll be seen exploring the neighborhoods of San Francisco finding new sights and good food along the way.

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Bridget Llanes

Health in Nature Program Manager

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Bridget Llanes grew up in the Frontline Environmental Justice community of Hobbs, New Mexico where she took long walks in fields of oil pump jacks and rows of cotton. She wondered if the earth beneath her feet always felt so harsh and smelling of chemicals. In eighth grade, she made a wildflower collection of the plants that grew in the cracks of sidewalks and scrubby vacant lots. She also helped her teacher plant a garden at school for Earth Day. Gardening gave her the opportunity to be able to make a place beautiful and healthy, which gave her a sense of connection and purpose she never had. It was as if a light turned on in her mind and heart; recognizing plant life all around her made the world engaging, and less harsh. Since 2005, she has worked in the South Bronx, NY, Albuquerque, NM, and San Francisco, CA to connect plants with people in the community and school gardens. This connection continues to help her and the people she works alongside transform experiences of hardship and trauma into moments of healing and resilience.

 

She sees our (re)connection with nature as a deeply decolonizing act. This inspires her to work with plants and people as a way to address systemic inequities in intentionally underserved communities through growing food and native plants, taking walks, and making medicine. Nature connection helps us to reclaim knowledge of ourselves, and gain respect for our culture and community. When we see our own humanity as an intrinsic part of the environment and not something separate, we begin to understand that we are all stewards of the Earth. She brings to Sutro Stewards a commitment to rooting this work in inclusivity, anti-racism, complementarity, and equity of all people. She hopes that her decades of experience supporting and coordinating programs will connect, and uplift the Health in Nature program to bring more people to steward the mountain.

 

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Gerali "Geri" Diaz

Programs and Outreach Coordinator

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Geri joined Sutro Stewards as a Nursery and Green Infrastructure Apprentice in November of 2021. During their time as an apprentice, Geri enjoyed learning all about the native plants and habitats that exist on the mountain. Above all, their favorite part was building relationships with new and returning volunteers week after week. These relationships, and the quiet refuge of Mount Sutro, helped form a welcomed sense of place and community for Geri, who moved to the city shortly before joining Sutro Stewards.

Geri grew up in the Mojave Desert, and they received their Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz. Their deep love for this Earth and their understanding that people’s relationship with nature profoundly influences how they behave towards the Earth drives Geri to an environmental career.

Mount Sutro’s unique landscape and its diverse community who appreciate and steward the land, motivates Geri in the work of enhancing habitat and community access to the open space. Geri is excited to connect more people to the mountain, deepen the relationship between people and nature, and steward the land so that generations to come may also enjoy this ecological oasis in the middle of the city.  

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Vincent "V" Distrola

Nursery Intern

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Vincent was born and grew up in the sweltering heat in Southern California’s Inland Empire. Because summers were hot and dry, he spent most of his youth inside with the narrative that the outdoors was a harsh, unfriendly place. Moving to San Francisco in 2014, he quickly realized how much he loved being outside and the deep impact nature had on him.

 

He left corporate work to pursue nature-oriented work centered around community building in late 2019. In 2021, he went back to school at San Francisco State University and completed his Bachelors of Science in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Administration. He has interned with Friends of the Urban Forest and Literacy for Environmental Justice, as well as work at the greenhouses on campus at SFSU. He feels strongly that green spaces need to be protected and conserved but they also need to feel equitable and accessible to the communities they serve. He believes that nature is a space that everyone is welcome in and enjoys listening to the lived experiences of others and their relationship to the outdoors.  

 

Vincent is always happy to go look at ferns and enjoy a cup of tea with others.

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Kim Lee

Conservation Intern

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Kim started off as a wee sprout in southern California. After taking an environmental science class, she pursued a higher education in a field related to the environment. As a sapling, she flourished at the University of California, Berkeley, studying environmental justice and geospatial information systems. Now as a maturing tree, Kim works as a conservation intern with the Sutro Stewards. She monitors growth and controls invasive species. Her vintage pickaxe’s name is Victoria.

As a sprout, came from south; living in the hot Californian chaparral.

Came to know, life must grow; studied environmental justice at Cal.

 

Sapling grown, path unknown; plague strains human connections and care. 

Wanted to see it through; society and nature an intertwined pair. 

 

Matured life, make things right; preserve for all what once was theirs.

Coexist, paradigm shift; uplifting one is for the betterment of both.

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