ZUNI, NM (Dec. 6, 2021) — This year, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project joined with the Zuni Education and Career Development Center, Catena Foundation, the New Mexico Department of Health, Zuni Health and Wellness Coalition, and a dedicated youth crew to conclude a significant expansion of a community trail system in the Pueblo of Zuni. They added the 4.5-mile Bluebird Trail and the 3.5-mile Mountain Bluebird Trail, established 11 trailheads, added 48 safety signs, and developed 40 additional mileage and wayfinding signs.

ZYEP and the Zuni Health & Wellness Coalition established the original trail system in 2014. With the addition of the two new routes, the network now comprises more than 60 miles of trails. Eleven distinct routes connect to most residential neighborhoods, allowing thousands of pueblo residents to walk, jog, run, and bike safely. The trails are open free to the public for exercise and recreation.

The current phase of the trail renovation project began in summer 2020 with the replacement of 92 mile-marker posts and concluded this past October. According to Enric Tsalate, ZYEP’s built environment coordinator, the project also included the development of new connection points to link existing trails.

“Our focus with this project is to expand existing trails, provide a safe access to new trails, and eventually connect them all,” Tsalate said. “We also want the project to help educate the public and raise awareness about land stewardship, Leave No Trace principles, and respect for culturally sensitive areas.”

ZYEP made sure teens and young adults were involved in the trail project as well. For that reason, ZYEP partnered with the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps. ALCC provided a five-person youth crew comprising members of the Zuni tribe, ages 18 to 29. The two leaders and three crew members spent six weeks on the trails with ZYEP staff, and Tsalate said they assisted with all the new signage, including informational kiosks at each trailhead.

“A lot of work went into this project,” he recalled. “The youth crew learned the basics of carpentry — how to read a measuring tape and how to use power tools safely. Then they learned more advanced carpentry skills, such as cutting procedures, layout, and framing. One goal of this project was to promote professional development through on-the-job training and service-based learning.”

Tsalate predicted that the next phase of trail development would take place in summer 2022. Until then, the trail system includes:

At each trailhead, the new informational kiosks provide trail names, logos, maps, safety rules, and inspirational Zuni phrases. Then, trail users will find distance and directional markers every half mile, as well as “Stay on Trail” and “Be Careful, Families Walking” safety signs.

Zuni brothers Mikey and Ritchie Owaleon were responsible for the artwork on the trail signs and posts, using wood-burning techniques and incorporating Zuni colors, designs, and language. To view an online trail map, visit https://www.zyep.org/trails/.

Joe Claunch, ZYEP’s executive director, said the trails project is an important part of the youth project’s ongoing mission in the Pueblo of Zuni community.

“We know that access to the outdoors is vital to the overall well-being of our children and our families,” he explained. “It’s vital that multiple generations have opportunities to pursue physical fitness, connect with culturally and spiritually significant lands, and enjoy nature together. We’re deeply grateful to the Zuni Education and Career Development Center, Catena Foundation, New Mexico Department of Health, and the many local coalition partners who helped make this possible.”

Indeed, this massive collaborative effort involved stakeholders throughout the Zuni community. Zuni Health and Wellness Coalition partners include the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps-Zuni Program, Zuni Department of Natural Resources, Zuni Department of Probation/CSW, Zuni Tribal Roads, Zuni Environmental Protection Program, Zuni Healthy Lifestyles Program, A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, and Zuni Cultural Resource and Advisory Team.

To learn more about the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project and its programs, and for information about making donations, partnering with ZYEP, and volunteering, call (505) 782-8000 or visit zyep.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest news and events, follow the nonprofit youth organization on Facebook (/zuniyouthenrichmentproject), Instagram (@zuniyouthenrichmentproject), YouTube (/ZuniYouth), and TikTok (@zyep09).

Founded in 2009, the nonprofit Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is dedicated to promoting resilience among Zuni youth so they will grow into strong, healthy adults who are connected with Zuni traditions. ZYEP fulfills its mission by providing positive role models, enriching programs, and nurturing spaces that contribute to the healthy development of Zuni youth. ZYEP strives to provide every child with the encouragement and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.