Volunteer Spotlight

Steve Ziman

Like Superman, Steve Ziman opens his coat to reveal his power. The t-shirt reads “SCIENCE IS NOT A LIBERAL CONSPIRACY.”

Steve is a volunteer trail ambassador at China Camp who hikes the trails several hours a week. In the park, he looks for downed trees blocking trails, does a little light trail work, and interacts with people enjoying the trails. Steve’s penchant for hiking and exploring runs deep. He has climbed an 18,000-foot peak in Nepal and a more than 15,000-foot mountain in China. He has visited far-flung places in inner Mongolia where Caucasians have never been seen, worked as a scientific research consultant in places like Kazakhstan and Sumatra, and taught science classes in Angola and Australia.

Plus, he’s a “Million-Mile flyer.”  

Steve and his wife Susan moved from San Francisco to San Rafael in 2009 to get away from the cold and fog. Turned out China Camp was in their backyard. Steve grew to love the park, and got to know the people who work and volunteer here. Now, when not hiking China Camp’s trails, he cruises around the park on an electric bike. “I like all of the variety at China Camp—the hills, the different flora and fauna, and going to the beach with my four-year-old grandson.”

Though in his late 70s, Steve is a strong, highly active adventurer. He’s an accomplished photographer and member of the Marin Photography Club, where he has served as president. Steve also volunteers several hours a month on the disaster committee of the San Pedro Road Coalition, taking pictures, working with various agencies, and training city employees about what to do in an emergency. He was recently reelected to the board of Glenwood Neighbors, the homeowners’ group for the neighborhood adjoining China Camp.

Board member and volunteer coordinator Joyce Abrams, who has worked with Steve for years, says it’s a pleasure to work with him. “He’s very generous with his time,” Joyce says. “He’s in the park a lot and is one of the first people to report a downed tree or a mudslide. He’s extremely helpful.”

Jersey boy, Stanford scientist, world traveler

Steve was reared in New Jersey, received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, and moved to California in 1975 for a post-doc at Stanford.  He is a quintessential scientist who is intensely curious about the world, and is keenly interested in figuring things out and collaborating with others.

“I love teaching people who want to learn,” he says. 

In his professional life, one of the most satisfying projects he managed was an air-quality plan in the Central Valley. In 1986, the project became a highly successful, $65 million air-quality research study which Steve managed with a consortium of organizations including PG&E, the oil industry, and the Environmental Protection Agency. It was hailed the most comprehensive study of its kind in the country. 

The global scientist and intrepid traveler says he now works as hard or harder in retirement as he did when he had a “real” job. But now he has time to hang out with his buddies in his Wednesday hiking group, and to pull invasive weeds with other members of his neighborhood association. 

But of the many organizations he works with, China Camp occupies a very special place in his heart. “China Camp is a beautiful place to be,” he says.—by Janet Wiscombe/FOCC

Photo: ©Steve Ziman