Meet the Staff

From the directors who steer the ship, to the year-round staff who head-up different program areas, to our seasonal crew of Group and Trip Leaders... you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who isn't passionate about what they do at Wilderness Adventure!

The Colonel: Founder


The Colonel (Gene Nervo) is the heart and soul of this operation.  As he regularly likes to remind his young staff, he has the wisdom and the vision that is needed to bring life to a program as unique as Wilderness Adventure.  After 35 years in the Marine Corp and raising 7 children, he decided to use his retirement toward the betterment of today's youth.  He spent 15 years as a boy scout leader and while he respected the organization, he knew that he could perfect the outdoor experience by building his own program.  With over 50 years of experience leading men, boys and now children of all ages, he came up with his 4 principals of success that still give added depth and perspective to our trips today.  Work ethic, communication skills, respect and a positive attitude are the foundation of every good trip and the building blocks for character and confidence in every child.

Dustin Eshelman, Director of Operations


Everyone’s got to have at least one mom of the group and if Dustin isn’t it, I’m not sure what is. Dustin keeps this ship in tip top order while providing practical leadership. It doesn’t get better than having this strong female presence leading the way!

Dustin started working as a trip leader here at WA in 1997 at the age of 23. After just a few weeks into her first year, she was smitten with a fella that would one day become her husband, Pete Eshelman. Pete continued working at WA as director for the next 12 years while Dustin worked on and off through graduate school getting her Masters in Education and had a couple kids along the way. Now, after years of teaching in the public schools, founding and running another business of her own, and raising those kids into adulthood, Dustin has returned to WA as the new Executive Director to help pick up the pieces during a global pandemic and steer this beautiful ship towards calmer waters.

Tim Pohlad-Thomas, Director of Marketing & Special Events

Before starting at Wilderness Adventure, Tim served as the Public Engagement Manager at RIDE Solutions, where he helped commuters find alternative transportation options, including biking, walking, carpool, vanpool, and transit. When Tim is not working, he spends his time working with other organizations to help plan events such as Roanoke Go Outside Festival, FloydFest (Outdoor Adventure), the Annual Experience Conference, the yearly program Experience Outside, and Clean Valley’s Riverfest. Along with event planning, Tim is also President of the Clean Valley Council Board, a member of the 5 Points Music Foundation Board, and Vice Chair of the Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.

Tim is married with two children ages 9 and 16. He has lived in or around Roanoke his entire life spending most of that time with my family in the outdoors hiking, camping, riding bikes, and in some cases, working.

Elaine Braley, Director of AdministraTION & gROUP sALES

Elaine has been planning events of all shapes and sizes for well over 25 years. In 2015 she started her own event business, SWVA Events LLC., that she and her business partner still maintain today. In addition to her event business, she has been heavily involved in the music festival scene. She currently works with the Artist Hospitality crew at Floydfest, Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival, Red Wing Roots Festival, and many more. Elaine has called SW Virginia her home for over 20 years. After raising her 3 children in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Floyd, she decided to move back to Roanoke and begin the next phase of her life. Her hospitality background coupled with her administrative experience made her a perfect fit for the position of Director of Administration & Group Sales at Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing.

Neese Hess

From Roanoke, VA, Neese is the Head Chef here at Wilderness Adventure. When it comes to scratch made food made with love and care, she’s your girl! Knowledgeable in dietary restrictions and vast cuisines she likes to add flare and fun to every meal she puts out. Come on by and give it a try!

Abby Williams


From Oil City, PA, Abby is one of our kindest, silliest, and hardest-working team members. You’ll love her from the start! Abby started at WA in 2013 as an intern in the Park and Resource Management field at Slippery Rock University but quickly fell in love with outdoor leadership and ski instructing. When she’s not at WA, you’ll find her on the slopes, teaching snowboarding at Holiday Valley, NY in the winters. In addition to being our kayaking and caving instructor, Abby loves to ski, mountain bike, cave, run, and hop on whitewater anytime she gets the chance.

Annika enders

Annika (aka Shalorganina and Mason’s twin) is one of the Wisconsinites on staff, recently graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management. She is one of our climbing/caving instructors, and the climbing/caving manager. When she’s not at WA, Annika is the volunteer coordinator for the Michigan Ice Climbing Festival. If she’s not high in the sky or deep underground, she’s probably pulling a prank, eating cheese, dreaming of colder weather, brewing kombucha, or crafting in a shed.

Mason Henke

From small dairy Town Wisconsin I spent over 10 years in Boy Scouts eventually earning the Eagle Scout award and thats where my love for the outdoors was born this is my first year as a leader but I've been on many outdoor adventures Northern Wisconsin, the grand canyon, and a few more.

Amy Gallimore, The delight of Everyone’s Day

Want to know anything about the area? This is your woman. Loaded with local knowledge and food fit for kings, Amy simply is a shining beacon of light even on the dreariest of days.

Ernie, King of the Rock

He has been fed today, his begging is a manipulation. But it’s also probably how he’s managed to stay alive long enough to become a resident here at camp.


preacher, mayor of Wilderness Adventure

While on the clock, Preacher can be found networking with campers, guests, and staff, staring longingly at food, and taking a nap in any shady area he can find. In his free time, Preacher enjoys cooling off in the creek and blocking foot traffic access on various spots at base camp. He has been officially appointed as the Mayor of WA, and he will continue to fulfill his duties as long as he physically can.