Coeur d'Alene woman honored for highway cleanups

A stretch of highway in the Moses Lake, Wash., area is cleaner today because of Katie Burke’s dedication. So is a highway in Whitefish, Mont. And so is U.S. 95 in northern Idaho.

Burke found a visible way to give back to the communities in which she’s lived. When she moved to the Coeur d’Alene area about seven years ago, she brought that commitment with her. And because of her efforts, the Idaho Transportation Board this week honored Katie as the District 2 Adopt-A-Highway volunteer of the year.

Although she is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Rotary, Katie undertakes the highway cleanup campaigns as a solo endeavor. Why? “She simply doesn’t like garbage,” explains District 1 Adopt-A-Highway coordinator Diane DuBos.

Katie’s home on the road since October 2009 is between mileposts 430 and 431 on U.S. 95. After the tragic loss of her son, Katie adopted another highway segment and aptly named it “Burke Mountain in Loving Memory of Toby Jo Choquette,” DuBos explains.

She continues to pick up with the Coeur d’Alene rotary while maintaining the additional section on “Burke Mountain, DuBos said. “On her own, Katie picked up more than 1,120 pounds of trash, while the Coeur d’Alene Rotary as a group picked up 1,400 pounds.

Katie recycles much of what she collects. She finds family pets, lots of bags and paper that fly out of the transfer trucks as they pass by. When asked why she does all of this, she reflectively says it gives her time to think, that it lets people know how beautiful Coeur d’Alene is and what we, as residents, think about it.

“She is always gracious to our ITD staff. She exchanges a friendly wave with our maintenance crews on a regular basis. She carries the ‘Idaho’s Too Great to Litter’ bags in her car and keeps a few at her office. She gives them to anyone she happens to meet.”

In addition to her involvement with Rotary, Katie is a Coeur d’Alene Ironman volunteer and serves on husband Paul’s Ironman crew. He competed in the Hawaiian Ironman in 2010, as well as other races.

ITD’s statewide Adopt-A-Highway program organizes the cleaning of Idaho roadsides by volunteer groups. Those groups “adopt” a specific stretch of highway – usually two miles or longer – and take responsibility for keeping it clean through regular litter patrols.
Approximately 1,000 Adopt-A-Highway groups conducted regular cleanups in 2010, logging a total of nearly 58,000 person-hours and saving ITD an estimated $750,000. Through their efforts, ITD is able to commit more resources to highway projects that improve travel conditions and safety.
More than half of Idaho’s highways have been adopted, leaving ample opportunities for other groups and individuals to become involved.

In addition to groups participating in the Adopt-A-Highway program, an increasing number of volunteers also are involved in keeping Idaho highways clean and attractive. In calendar year 2010, they removed 2,814 bags of garbage, or more than 98,000 pounds, from roadsides.

Adopt-A-Highway groups and non-affiliated volunteers make a tremendous difference in the appearance of Idaho’s highways, said Sherie Sweaney, statewide Volunteer Services Coordinator. “It really is gratifying that so many people are committed to keeping our highways clean and attractive,” she said. “It also helps us get the most out of our available highway maintenance funds.”

For more information about adopting a stretch of highway or participating in volunteer services, contact Sweaney at (800) 443-2878.

Published 7-15-2011