Transforming spaces: Pinon celebrates new park

Miss Pinon High School ‘23-’24 Phildeya Lee stands at a new bridge built for the park Dec. 18.  (Photo/submitted)

Miss Pinon High School ‘23-’24 Phildeya Lee stands at a new bridge built for the park Dec. 18. (Photo/submitted)

PINON, Ariz. — Pinon community members have pitched in to turn an area of nothing but dirt and overgrown yellow grass into a thriving park with picnic tables, ramadas with grills, an amphitheater and trailheads.

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Miss Pinon High School Phildeya Lee and Myron McLaughlin from the Pinon Unified School District Maintenance crew pose after a speech during the park's grand opening Dec. 18.

The Pinon High School construction class built and installed signs and the school district’s maintenance crew welded grills. Artist Corey Begay painted murals to beautify the space.

Project Coordinator Charles Begay and his team of Donovan Johnson and Claudia Begay all work at the Pinon Chapter. They are the recipients of two Grand Canyon Trust placemaking project grants of $10,000, which allowed them to turn their dream for a park into reality.

“There was nothing there at all before and there was really nothing planned…so we were able to turn an empty lot into something for the community with this project,” Begay said. “We’re trying to create a small community park or place where people can hang out and have social activities or maybe even events there in the future.”

The small community of Pinon is in Navajo County just outside the Hopi reservation. Approximately 1,000 people live in Pinon, and there aren’t many options for recreation outside of the public schools, Begay said.

“We didn’t have any developments as far as community-growth wise in the past 15 years,” Johnson said. “So it was really brand new to the community and it really sticks out when you drive through.”

Begay said they are developing a path that goes from the park to a shopping center in town, part of Pinon Harmony Trails.

“So we’ve added some trailheads, we’re putting gravel along the way so it doesn’t get too muddy, and then we’ve even put up a couple solar lights that are on the trailhead signs,” Begay said. “And on the trailhead signs we’ve put up information on local wildlife and plants and even some Navajo history.”

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Artist Corey Begay was hired to design a mural for the Pinon park’s new walking trail based on the theme of community. He used spray paint to create the design. Begay is from Cedar Springs, Ariz. and lives in Winslow, Ariz. (Photo/submitted)

There is a map of the trails, as well as information about the Juniper trees, corn pollen, black-tailed rabbits, golden eagles, and a sign about the Navajo Code Talkers with a black, white, yellow and teal backdrop underneath the words “harmony” and “hózhó.”

‘Big community effort’

Begay and his team asked the Pinon High School construction class if they wanted to be involved, and they were excited to participate.

“The students were really happy to be involved and we even made it a school day lesson for them to where they came out one day and they helped us install the trailhead signs along the way,” Begay said. “It was actually really, really cool to see the students talking about the project. They were involved from the design process all the way to the actual installation, and they were even talking to each other saying, ‘In the future I’ll be able to say I helped with this project, I was the one that helped put those trail signs together.’

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Project Coordinator Charles A. Begay gives a speech during the park's opening event Dec. 18 with Pinon Chapter President Bessie Allen, Treasurer/ Secretary Romona Nalwood and Vice President Bill Yazzie.

The students joined over 60 community members for the grand opening Dec. 18, where Navajo tacos and other treats were served.

“This was a big community effort,” Begay said. “We did get a lot of input from the community of what they wanted. This is just the beginning of the park area. I know one thing a lot of people want to see in the future is an active playground. We just didn’t have that in the budget for this time. We are planning other things such as a skate park or a bike park, it just depends on the funding that we get.”

Another highly sought-out feature will be the new vendor village that will break ground this spring. Ten slabs of concrete will be under a ramada at the park with space for 10 vendors to sell crafts, art or food.

Previously, there was a vending area for the Pinon community, Donovan said, but it was hidden away next to the old baseball field.

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Installing trail signs at the new Pinon park.

“It’s been highly requested that we get a flea market where everybody can be seen,” Donovan said. “We did want to create a place that is more visible. This spot is roadside, you can see it on the way through town. We want to create a space that people can spend just more than 15 minutes in.”

Donovan said the trail park project will benefit the vendor village because families can come in and spend time on trails or reading the signs while other family members check out the vendors.

Though it’s still in the planning phase, the team likes the idea of having the vending village open on a first-come, first-serve basis throughout the week and the chapter only charging people on Fridays, which tend to be the busiest days. Begay said he has seen this model be successful in other similar towns on the reservation.

The next priority is trying to find funding for a small playground at the park.

“I’ve looked at some playgrounds for commercial use and those ones are about $10,000,” Begay said.

Begay and his partners have a better understanding of the grant process now after successfully securing and utilizing the two grants for Phase I of the project.

The trio recently attended a two-day creative placemaking workshop at Change Labs in Tuba City. There they learned how they could create spaces for the community, integrating artistic talent.

“We were initially just going to submit one (proposal), but then I figure, why not take the chance and submit a couple of them? And both of them were chosen,” Begay said. “When we were at the workshop, they told us that we were able to submit more than one proposal, which we didn’t know at first.”

The park is being called Meadow Park in paperwork, but Begay wants to open up the suggestion of new names from community members.

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