What: Hogback Irrigation Ditch cleanup

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hogback/Tse Daa K'aan Chapter House, off U.S. Highway 64 in Hogback

More info: Call Pastor Robert Tso at 505-608-0829.

FARMINGTON — The Hogback Irrigation Ditch will receive some much needed maintenance on Saturday.

Volunteers from Shiprock, Hogback, Farmington and other communities will come together to cut down trees and remove stumps that are clogging the ditch. But for local leaders, the project is much more than maintenance.

"In relations with the border towns, there's always this racial tension," said Robert Tso, pastor of Victory Life Church in Shiprock. "I believe that this may do some healing. I believe that when the Native Americans see these leaders working here, they're going to get excited."

At least 100 volunteers from Shiprock and Hogback are expected to attend Saturday's cleanup event, Tso said. More are expected to arrive from Farmington and other communities.

Volunteers with access to chain saws, axes, skid steer, a wood chipper/shredder and trucks and trailers are needed.

The Hogback/Tse Daa K'aan Chapter House will provide Navajo tacos to volunteers for lunch.

"That irrigation ditch is almost a two-and-a-half to three-mile stretch," Tso said. "There'll be plenty of room."

The ditch serves a vital purpose in the Hogback and Shiprock communities, he said.

"It's one of the main lines, and it also serves Shiprock," Tso said.

The project sprung out of a meeting between Navajo and Israeli farmers in Shiprock in April, he said.

"There was a team of four that came from Israel to share farming and irrigation techniques," Tso said. "We wanted to do something more than just another conference. We decided to have a round table meeting."

That follow-up meeting was held at San Juan College in May.

"We decided that in order for us to better our agricultural needs, we needed to take care of our irrigation ditches," Tso said.

The meeting quickly turned into a grassroots, community effort after Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, suggested that the community take action for themselves, Tso said.

"(Sharer) just said, 'Give me a date and time, and I'll come down. I've got a shovel,'" Tso said. "Then everybody else just said, 'I've got this,' and 'I've got this.' The next day I started to get emails saying, 'Let's not wait to get this done."

The Hogback cleanup project, in the mean time, has continued to attract attention from local leaders.

"This is kind of the first step," said Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington. "We're inviting the community, anybody and everybody that can cut down trees ... any and all volunteers that know how to do manual labor."

Both Strickler and Sharer plan to attend Saturday's event, according to a sign-up list provided to The Daily Times.

The project will help put farmland back into productive use, Strickler said.

"You've got farmland that's not currently in use," he said. "These are small, five- to ten-acre farms. It would be good to get them back into production, even if it's just cow grass."

Greg Yee covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and gyee@daily-times.com. Follow him @GYeeDT on Twitter.