Volunteers restore beauty to Shiprock pinnacle

Noel Lyn Smith

SHIPROCK — Muddy roads and rainfall did not stop a group of local AmeriCorps members and community volunteers from reaching the Shiprock pinnacle today, where they started a beautification project.

Shaneyka Yazzie holds one of the seed balls the members of the Shiprock-based AmeriCorps group planned to plant on Friday at the Shiprock pinnacle.

Approximately 10 volunteers braved those conditions to set 20 baled excelsior rolls, which are designed to help collect rain runoff, in locations around the formation. Volunteers were also planting seed balls, collecting seeds and picking up trash.

Kyle Jim is an AmeriCorps member in the environmental stewardship program and serves as the beautification coordinator for the program's office in Shiprock. AmeriCorps is a national service program whose members serve rural and urban communities across the United States.

"We're being as resourceful as we can," Jim said, adding that the office received 50 excelsior rolls donated by a Waterflow couple.

To help the process, volunteers made seed balls from clay and mud earlier in the week. Each ball held blue corn, sunflower, sumac berry or Navajo tea seeds.

Shaneyka Yazzie, 22, an AmeriCorps member in the environmental stewardship program, said the clay and mud help the germination process.

"That way, we don't have to keep watering it. All the moisture is inside that little ball," Yazzie said.

While at the site, workers planned to make more seed balls and use rainwater to moisturize the clay and mud.

Kyle Jim, center, and Shaneyka Yazzie of the Shiprock AmeriCorps group get ready to ride on the back of a truck carrying materials to be used for a control erosion project on Friday at the Shiprock pinnacle. In back Kendrick Joey, left, and Alejandro Cota scrutinize a sodden trail before heading out.

Yazzie said she wanted to help improve the area because the pinnacle is part of traditional Navajo stories and is a familiar landmark, in addition to the fact that its image has been captured in movies and photographs.

The idea to beautify the land started after Pesancio Anthony Lasiloo approached the AmeriCorps members. Last summer Lasiloo, 24, was part of a group of students who visited the pinnacle from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

What Lasiloo saw troubled him — the area was littered with debris, including empty liquor bottles. He was also bothered by the criminal activity that often occurs at the location, including the May murder of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike.

"All of these things were brought to my attention, and I wanted to do something about it," Lasiloo said.

After deciding not to ignore the situation, he moved home to Newcomb, then traveled twice a week to the area to pick up trash along the dirt road that goes from the Navajo Route 13 turnoff to the rock formation.

A sign made by Pesancio Anthony Lasiloo, a Shiprock AmeriCorps member, greets visitors to the Shiprock pinnacle on Friday.

"It took me almost 10 months to clear the whole thing up. …It needs to be monitored because a lot of people do a lot of illegal things here," Lasiloo said.

His concern led him to contact the Navajo Nation parks and recreation department in Window Rock, Ariz. But staff members there told him they did not have jurisdiction for the area, so they could not address the idea of making improvements.

He contacted other tribal entities, and after exhausting those avenues, he reached out to AmeriCorps, which had been working on similar beautification projects in the Shiprock community.

"I applaud them for what they are doing," Lasiloo said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.