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SHIPROCK — Denzel Tsosie and Arron Lee carefully unwrapped packaging material from a piece of outdoor gym equipment that was delivered Monday to Nizhoni Park.

After removing foam and plastic, Tsosie, 15, and Lee, 17, inspected the item before unwrapping another piece of equipment.

The young men are members of the New Mexico Conservation Corps and have spent most of the summer helping renovate the park in Shiprock.

Part of the renovation included removing old playground equipment, picnic tables and a large shade house.

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This week, they will complete work on a walking trail and install the outdoor gym equipment.

For Andrew Davidson, another conservation corps member, the new equipment and trail will provide a place for residents to exercise.

"It's a way to address the diabetes issues we have, to help people by trying to motivate them to exercise," Davidson said.

Anna Tyler is a grant manager and administrator for Issachar Calling, a non-profit organization based in Waterflow that focuses on health promotion and helping communities improve quality of life.

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The organization received funding from the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps to hire and train area youth for the summer.

Members are between 14 and 25 and work full time, including hands-on training and attending sessions that center on life skills, agriculture, Navajo language, health and nutrition.

With the unemployment rate high on the reservation, the program provides an outlet for youth to learn basic job skills and work on projects that benefit the community, Tyler said.

"They are gaining knowledge as well as work experience. …I think the drive behind this is not just the money but they're doing something for their community," Tyler said. 

During the first phase of the renovation project, members removed the old playground equipment and other amenities.

After the park was cleared, the land was leveled by the Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority.

Conservation Corps members also repainted the gazebo, removed weeds and planted trees.

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Tyler said the project's second phase will be completed by Shiprock Chapter, which purchased new playground equipment through revenue allocated by the tribe's unhealthy foods sales tax.

The playground equipment will be placed in the center of the gravel trail loop the members, she said.

Shiprock resident Jaylynn Mose said she welcomes the change in the park's appearance.

Mose, 15, did not like seeing graffiti and garbage when she visited the location with her family prior to the renovation work.

"It makes me happy and proud that I'm able to do what I did to help my community," she said adding the upgrades can change the perception of the community.

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This is the second project Austin and Brenton Begay, 21-year-old twin brothers from Mitten Rock, have helped construct under the conservation corps.

The first project was a concession and restroom facility at the little league field in Shiprock.

Since this is the second time the brothers are participating in the program, they are serving as supervisors. Each manages eight members.

"There's a lot of kids and they don't have a lot of places to go. A place like this will make kids more active," Brenton Begay said.

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For Austin Begay, it is an opportunity to help the community.

"I can picture it. What I'm hoping is that they get a new parking lot and hopefully they put grass here. That's what I would like to see," Austin Begay said.

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

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