By Rob Peterson
It didn’t take long for Zoe Burket to begin taking care of Sunset Lake.
Zoe, who grew up in Portage and Indiana, moved to Vicksburg at the end of last year and almost immediately got to work cleaning up the trash left behind by people visiting the lake.
“I originally got a boat so that I could get some exercise,” says Zoe. “I saw the trash and started cleaning it up as I went around the lake.”
At least once a week, sometimes for up to two hours, Zoe goes out on the lake and uses a fishing net to collect trash. A typical day results in a full net; once, an entire kitchen trash bag.
Most items are to be expected: fishing bobbers and hooks, dog toys, and a considerable number of soda cans. Zoe, who uses the pronoun “they,” can’t wait for the bottle return to open; the cans might earn enough to buy new oars. Sometimes the items are useful, like the gardening glove used to collect trash. Other times what they find is tragic, like the frog caught up in a mylar balloon.
Much of what they find is along the public areas at the south end of the lake. Anything that is discarded at the north end follows the current and gets caught up in the lily pads.
As a child, Zoe was inspired to start cleaning litter by The Big Help, a Nickelodeon community outreach program that would encourage kids to vote for their favorite parks to be refurbished. “It always looked satisfying to make that kind of difference,” says Zoe. “It was really empowering as a kid, watching everyone working together. It helped me to see the importance of protecting nature.”
The most frustrating part of the work for Zoe is seeing the water bottles. “If it wasn’t an inconvenience to bring the bottle, it’s not an inconvenience to take it back,” says Zoe.
“Taking care of your own stuff takes a small amount of energy, but it makes a big difference.”