Aaron Floyd - Executive Director
A native of Grayson County, Virginia, Aaron Floyd spent much of his youth along the ridges, valleys, rivers, and streams of the Blue Ridge Mountains. His lifelong love of the Blue Ridge and its uniquely varied ecosystem motivated him to become a founding member of BRDC in 2007. He helped formulate BRDC’s mission of exploring, discovering, and sharing the natural history of the mountains while also encouraging innovative strategies to tap the area’s vast potential for educational, cultural, and economic growth.
Aaron earned a Bachelor of Architecture with a Minor in Studio Art from Virginia Polytechnic Institute where he was a recipient of the Olivio Ferrari Scholarship and other honors, including winning the university’s Third Year Architectural Competition. He pursued additional studies at the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center, the James Madison Archaeological Field School, and international study at Riva San Vitale, Switzerland through the Virginia Tech Center for European Studies. While employed at an architecture firm in Tucson, Arizona he studied desert ecology through the Tucson Audubon Society and the Sonoran Desert Museum.
Aaron combines a highly entrepreneurial outlook with technical proficiency, balanced by creative capacities in art, illustration, and design. Since 2009 he has operated MOW Design Build, an independent architectural design studio offering a full range of architectural services for private development and public sector clients. He cofounded AviAtlas, a map-driven database allowing for the global exchange of information among birders and avian enthusiasts. He has been active in arts programming as a leader of the XYZ Gallery in Blacksburg, and played an instrumental role in developing programs that utilize art as a learning tool in outdoor exploration through partnerships between BRDC, schools, and community-based organizations across the Blue Ridge region.
Lisa Benish - Program Director
Long involved in area youth programming and volunteer activities, Lisa Benish brings a strong background in business administration and faith-based community activities to her role as Program Coordinator for the Blue Ridge Discovery Center. In 1991, after graduating from East Carolina University and becoming a Registered Dietitian, Lisa moved to Grayson County to be closer to the Blue Ridge Mountains that she loves. After working in that profession for a number of years, she became the manager of a medical practice while raising three sons. She has been a scout leader for 14 years, is certified in CPR and Wilderness First Aid, is a Virginia Master Naturalist and an active member of her church. Her interests include fly fishing, hiking and exploration of just about any kind. She brings her passion and enthusiasm for the Blue Ridge to BRDC and the youth of our community.
Jay Martin - Naturalist/Educator
First and foremost, Jay is a naturalist. Quiet by nature, he is the quintessential observer, examining subtle detail that others may not have the time to find. Jay studies and shares those observations through his passion for photography and art. He comes to BRDC from a twenty year career as a Wildlife Biologist with the USFS where he managed and studied song birds, amphibians, and mammals of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Jay also serves as co-chair of the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (SASRI). Although Jay gets into the fine detail of nature, you will have a hard time keeping up with his speed bushwhacking from A to B.
Cynthia Taylor - Communications Director
Cynthia Taylor brings a wealth of experience in nature education, conservation, and natural resource management to her position as Communications Manager for the Blue Ridge Discovery Center. Cynthia was formerly Natural Resource Manager for Elachee Nature Science Center, the only nature center in the southeast accredited by both the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Council on Accreditation and School Improvement. Elachee serves 35,000 students from more than 22 school systems each year. It hosts an additional 30,000 annual visits to the museum and Nature Preserve. As Natural Resource Manager, Cynthia coordinated research and educational programming, and wrote and supervised grants to support those activities. Cynthia continues to be active in conservation activities throughout the Southwest Virginia Highlands region, collaborating with area non-profits as well as, local, state, and federal agencies.
Madeline Dunbar - development officer
Madeline hails from the bustling Blue Ridge tourist hub of Asheville, NC, where she developed her love of the outdoors and Appalachian mountains. An avid boater and river enthusiast, she has previously worked with the Potomac Riverkeeper and Shenandoah Riverkeeper in Social Media Marketing and Development. In her previous career, Madeline was a hairstylist and owned a successful business in Winston-Salem, NC. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science at Virginia Tech's College of Environment & Natural Resources, focusing on Watershed Management, Policy, and Planning. Madeline lives in Independence, VA with her husband, Jay, and daughter, Eva, and enjoys spending time with them swimming, canoeing, and kayaking on the New River, backpacking in the Blue Ridge mountains, riding horses, and gardening.
Sarah Osborne - Administrative Assistant
Sarah grew up playing and exploring in the fields and forests of the Blue Ridge. Her parents instilled a love for the outdoors at an early age; canoeing the New River, hiking Mt. Rogers and attending the Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally as a toddler. Sarah attended the College of Charleston and Radford University, (BS in Sociology) and returned to Grayson County to make her home. She previously worked in the field of youth mental health and currently is a full-time mother and household manager, as well as business manager for her husband's construction company. Sarah is also a member of the Grayson County Electoral Board. She does all of this and finds time to be an avid organic gardener. In her "free time" she loves all things outdoors with her husband and sons: hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, canoeing, birding and sharing her love for nature with area youth.