Patti Ziegler–Learning Through the Land 

March 10, 2023

By Garrick Batemen, Conservancy Intern

Patti Ziegler is a lifelong learner–it’s clear even from the first emails we exchange. It becomes even clearer two days later when we first speak to each other on the phone, a forty-minute conversation throughout which she remains infectiously enthusiastic and endlessly curious. I have a list of some questions that I had planned on asking her–lucky for me, the conversation we ended up having was so intuitive, I didn’t even need them.  

Patti, fourth from the left, poses with a group of mountain bikers at Saltese Uplands Conservation Area. In 2021, Inland Northwest Land Conservancy purchased an additional 55 acres of land to add to the existing popular recreation area.

Patti first joined Inland Northwest Land Conservancy as a volunteer back in the summer of 2021, but this wasn’t the first step in her journey toward becoming a steward of the environment. Instead, she takes me back to her memories of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which she tells me is America’s largest urban preserve, just outside of Scottsdale, Arizona. An air of joy and pride accents her every word. She grew up in the Spokane area and fell in love with the outdoors here, but it wasn’t until she got involved as a volunteer at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve that she considered herself a steward. And the reason she did so was because someone else in the community invited her into that world. 

It’s an important part of her story, and something that she values in her work. When she winters in Arizona, she frequents the MSD as a patron and a recreationalist. She has a great admiration and respect for the preserve’s rangers and a natural curiosity that makes her close acquaintances with them. She didn’t, however, become a volunteer until someone at the preserve recommended that she should. Patti, like many of us, began her path to stewardship through recreation, fostering her love of the outdoors through hiking and mountain biking (of which she has a great deal of expertise). But the push Patti needed to make the jump from enjoyer of nature to protector of it was someone engaging with her curiosity and inviting her into that work. 

When we begin to talk about her experience at INLC, the stories she recalls most fondly are those when she shared in mutual learning with other nature lovers. She tells me about a hike she took with Todd Dunfield at Waikiki Springs when he shared his extensive knowledge of the region’s environmental history. Another time, two teenage fishers approached her while she was tabling at that same trailhead and asked her about her books on wildflowers. Once, a group of Girl Scouts camping at Liberty Lake received an impromptu Patti Ziegler education about local wildlife. To be a good steward, to Patti, is to be curious. Whether she’s collecting data on citizen science projects back in Scottsdale or educating at one of our local project areas, Patti is constantly getting people involved through education. 

At the beginning of our conversation, she shared with me a quote she’d come across the day before. The quote is from Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer: “In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” In many ways, this is exactly why Patti does what she does, why even into retirement, she’s hard at work protecting our shared environment and fostering a love for it for all generations. These days, Patti might do a lot of the teaching herself–hopefully you can catch her someday at one of INLC’s properties, setting up shop to talk about wildflowers or moose. But like all good teachers, Patti is a learner first and foremost, and it doesn’t seem like she’s slowing down any time soon.

Want to follow in Patti’s footsteps (or boot prints)? Consider becoming a Volunteer Land Steward. More information below.