Gary Adest, Ph.D. – Founder and President

Though born in the wilds of Brooklyn, New York, Gary spent every possible moment in upstate and outdoors. Nature Camp Counselor for the Boy Scouts was the opening to a career that has led through a Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D. in Biology to ownership of River Ridge Ranch, with stops teaching at Cal State Los Angeles and UC San Diego. Gary has done research on evolutionary genetics of reptiles, ecology of urban rats, as well as the life history and physiology of the rare and endangered Bolson Tortoise of Mexico. He now oversees the research program at River Ridge Ranch. His goal is to keep as much of the southern Sierra Nevada foothills in working ranch status as possible.

Vaughan Williams – Board Member

Vaughan was born and raised in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in the Mohave desert of southern California. Leaving the desert, he earned a degree in Ecology from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). He then worked at River Ridge Ranch in an ecology internship and at various biological consulting firms and was a land steward at Transition Habitat Conservancy, a land trust focusing on the western Mojave Desert. He is an avid rock climber and ultralight backpacker and has spent extended periods searching out beautiful places in western North America. He has continued collaborating with River Ridge Ranch and is actively involved in an ongoing ecological study there that he helped design. Vaughan Williams is now the Restoration Field Manager of the UC Santa Cruz Younger Lagoon Reserve.

Jonathan P. Wagy – Co-Founder and Strategic Manager

Jon grew up in Bakersfield, California and attended both UC Davis and Cal, receiving his B.S. in Forestry from Berkeley. He worked in a large variety of short-term forestry jobs and eventually started his own logging and lumber business in Kern County. In 1979, he moved his one-person sawmill to Springville, one of the last remaining small mills of its type in the state. Jon is a member of the Society of American Foresters and has served in various positions at SCICON, and the Tulare County Firesafe Council. He is firmly behind the Institute’s goals of natural resource conservation, education and research. Jon retired in 2019 and is actively engaged in restoration and repair on River Ridge. Jon is married to Board member Dorothy Guarisco.

Dorothy A. Guarisco – Board Member

I am pleased to be included on the board of directors for River Ridge Institute. I am a native of Tulare County and attended Visalia Schools, graduating from Mt. Whitney High School, home of the Pioneers! I attended College of the Sequoias during my senior year in high school and received an AA degree in Liberal Arts from Sierra Community College, in Rocklin California. I completed my Bachelors Degree in Liberal Arts, teaching credentials, and Master of Arts in Special Education at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California and taught Special Education for over 34 years.  During that time, I had many poignant experiences, the most memorable involving participating in the Science Fair, taking students to our local parks, the ocean, my husband’s sawmill, SCICON, and the Norris Ranch. My students, with unbelievable limitations, opened up to science, research and nature.  The purpose of the River Ridge Institute is important. Students interested in research and advanced degrees need a place to develop and work. I was given a variety of experiences in my field, the chance to participate in research, and develop expertise in areas of interest. I hope that River Ridge Institute will pay forward opportunities to students who will be the stewards of natural resources in the future.

Nancy Bruce, M.A. – Board Member

Nancy Bruce is the former Lead Teacher at Circle J -Norris Ranch, an outdoor education campus operated by Tulare County Office of Education. For over 30 years, Nancy has been active in both formal and informal education as a field science instructor in Yosemite National Park, an Outward Bound instructor in the Colorado Rockies and South Africa, a Naturalist for Open Space Parks in Colorado, and a teacher for SCICON.  She lives in Springville with her husband Mark Aspery- a blacksmith and author. Together they enjoy bicycling, canoeing, bird watching and the challenge of achieving a green household. Nancy believes the foundation for well-being is healthy, resilient, intact ecosystems.  She’d like to foster projects that maintain and enhance ecosystems while meeting the needs of society.