The Problem with Plastics

Americans consume 1,500 bottles of water every second, and only 23% of plastic consumed in the United States is recycled. That means that 38-50 billion single-use water bottles produced here every year end up as trash, piling up in our landfills and even our waterways.

“It’s a serious issue, especially for our animal habitats,” said Bambi Godkin, Mill Mountain Zoo’s Education and Conservation Manager,” and it can sometimes feel like no matter how much you change your own behavior, you’ll never make an impact on the big picture. I wanted to do something to at least raise the public’s awareness about the problem.”

Using Art to Create a Cleaner Valley

When Godkin had the idea to run a program for artists to create sculptures out of trash collected from Roanoke Valley’s waterways, it felt like an appropriate way to draw different groups together.

“I thought that it would be a good opportunity to form a partnership with another organization in the valley,” said Godkin. “Plus, it seemed like the project would be more successful the more people we got involved.” 

She reached out to Clean Valley Council (CVC), a local environmental advocacy group that runs programs focused on recycling, litter prevention, stormwater protection, and stewardship.

“Clean Valley Council does a lot of great work in and around Roanoke to collect litter that is thrown into animal habitats,” said Godkin. So far in 2019, Clean Valley Council has been involved in fourteen clean-up days, including Fall Waterways, Clean Valley Day, Melrose Clean Sweep, and Tinker Creek Adopt-a-Highway. Over the course of these events, CVC has mobilized more than 2,300 volunteers and collected 1,500 tons (3 million pounds) of trash.

Together, Mill Mountain Zoo and the Clean Valley Council applied for a grant from the Roanoke Arts Commission to get the program off the ground. “It was the perfect match,” said Godkin. 

Last year, the inaugural year of Art to Rescue the River, two sculptures were placed in Mill Mountain Zoo by two local artists: Ruby-Throated Humming Bird by Katherine Devine and Beaufort the Black Bear by Toobz Muir.

“For the contest, we require that the sculptures be of an animal native to Virginia. We want the art to depict animals dealing with the impact of our litter here in Roanoke,” said Godkin.

How You Can Support Art to Rescue the River

Mill Mountain Zoo and Clean Valley Council are in the midst of the submission cycle for next year’s sculptures. They are accepting conceptual sketches of the sculptures and hope to choose the winners by the end of November. Artists will have the winter to produce their sculpture, and the completed pieces will be unveiled in April.

“We are excited to keep pushing forward with Art to Rescue the River. We got it off the ground last year, and we’re ready to continue growing the program and gaining more public exposure this year,” said Godkin.

Mill Mountain Zoo is located in Mill Mountain Park, a beautiful 568-acre regional park just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Their mission is to promote an appreciation and understanding of wildlife and habitat preservation through the use of quality exhibits and educational programs, and to work in cooperation with other animal conservation programs. Today, the Mill Mountain Zoo is the only major non-profit wildlife attraction on the entire 469-mile span of Blue Ridge Parkway, and enjoys continued success thanks to the support of the community, philanthropic organizations, and private donors.

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