Winnie Liang at Arnett Creek, Tonto N.F., in late 2020. Photo by Brian Stultz.

meet the people of Wild Arizona. interview series by WildAZ media associate Phoebe Stevens.

When Winnie Liang, recent Director of Scientific Operations at the Translational Genomics Institute, wasn’t busy working on one of many personalized medicine research projects, you might find her up in central Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. The mountains are just one of Liang’s favorite hiking spots due to their proximity and accessibility, but she has often found herself in awe of Arizona’s many wilderness areas since moving here from the east coast over 17 years ago.

As an avid hiker with an appreciation for Arizona’s unique beauty, it’s no wonder Liang has a running 12-year volunteer history with the Arizona Wilderness Coalition (AWC)–which predates the merger of AWC and the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council that launched Wild Arizona as we know it today. In 2008 she attended AWC’s annual film festival and discovered an organization whose conservation mission aligned with her intent to give back to the wilderness. AWC was there to answer her questions: who made these trails, and what efforts go into establishing trails and designating wilderness areas and parks?

After Liang’s initial exposure to the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, she participated in her first volunteer project–collecting trash in Fossil Creek in 2009– and has since been involved in many invasive species and solitude monitoring projects, which are now run by Wild Arizona’s Wilderness Stewardship (Wild Stew) volunteer program. Most recently, Liang attended Wild Stew’s tamarisk and oleander eradication volunteer weekend trip in Arnett Creek.

“It’s hard to verbalize [why someone should volunteer] because it seems so natural to me,” she says. According to Liang, her east coast upbringing couldn’t have shown her how beautiful Arizona is. Now that she’s experienced wilderness in Arizona, she can’t help but want to preserve it as an enriching environment for people and for future generations. Liang also attributes her opportunity to check out new hiking trails to her participation in the solitude monitoring program.

As for the future of Wild Stew, Liang hopes to have more visibility of the organization. “I hope more people recognize the need to to preserve the wilderness and just do something small to help,” she says. “I think a lot of people are afraid to commit, but even just a few activities in a year can help to educate.”