ZUNI, NM (Jan. 31, 2024) — The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project announced today that it has promoted Thomas Zunie to the position of built environment coordinator. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing all ZYEP facilities at Ho’n A:wan Park as well as Zuni’s extensive network of free community trails.
Born and raised in Zuni Pueblo, Thomas Zunie graduated from Haskell Indian Nations University with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree and a minor in physical education. He also is an avid runner, a three-time national qualifier for the full marathon and a one-time national qualifier for cross country.
“Thomas has been with us since 2022 as our built environment leader, working alongside Enric Tsalate, our departing built environment coordinator,” said Tahlia Natachu-Eriacho, ZYEP’s executive director. “He will continue the good work they started, and he also will have opportunities to grow in his new leadership role.”
Enric Tsalate joined ZYEP in 2020, filling an important need on the built environment team. He became a project leader and eventually the team coordinator.
“Enric made a significant impact in ensuring Ho’n A:wan Park was in pristine condition and followed sustainable, eco-friendly practices,” Natachu-Eriacho said. “He also helped to shape plans for our community trails. He never sought any recognition, but we want to take this opportunity to acknowledge his dedication and hard work. We wish him well.”
The 2.5-acre Ho’n A:wan (Belonging to All of Us) Park complex dates to 2015, when ZYEP partnered with the Zuni Tribe, ArtPlace America and a team of Zuni artists to plan, design and build a community park space. It incorporates a community center, multisport turf field, walking trail, community garden, rain harvest systems, basketball court, and works of art that reflect and celebrate the spirit of Zuni.
A year prior to the Ho’n A:wan Park project, ZYEP and the Zuni Health & Wellness Coalition collaborated to establish the community trail system. The network, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, now comprises more than 60 miles of trails. Eleven distinct routes connect to most residential neighborhoods, allowing thousands of pueblo residents to enjoy them safely.
“The Health and Wellness Coalition was created to ensure that programs within Zuni were collaborating to make the most impact, and ZYEP was fortunate to be part of it,” Natachu-Eriacho said. “The coalition established four pillars: food systems, health education, built environment, and sustainability. A project within the built environment pillar involved transforming our ancestral walking paths into recreational trails where community partners could host programs and community members could enjoy hiking, biking, walking and running.
“Creating equitable access to these spaces and opportunities was essential for addressing and combating the health issues we face in Zuni,” she continued. “Over the years, a lot of work has gone into the trail mile markers and the trailhead signage that provides information about the trails. The Zuni Cultural and Religious Advisory Team has been a huge help in advising our efforts, because some of these trails are near significant cultural sites; we are learning how to navigate those spaces in the most respectful way possible.”
Other valued partners over the years have included the New Mexico Department of Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, Outdoor Equity Trails+ and The Catena Foundation. Natachu-Eriachio said the ZYEP team is planning to engage in additional conversations with community partners to assess their goals and shared long-term vision for the trails.
“We’d like to do a trail user survey to see what the Zuni community currently likes about our trail system, and what they would like to see in the future,” she noted. “We believe our trails are a good resource for youth — not only for health benefits, but also for career development.”
To that end, she said the youth project seeks to establish a youth crew that would give participants opportunities to learn about trail planning, building and maintenance. In addition, ZYEP would like to develop a master trail plan, in collaboration with professional consultants, that would prioritize the sustainability of Zuni’s trail system.
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.