WORTHINGTON - For twenty-five years, two Worthington groups have been cleaning ditches and saving the state of Minnesota millions of dollars.
The Adopt a Highway Program kicked off in Minnesota in 1990 under Gov. Rudy Perpich. Here in District 7, the Worthington FFA and Ocheda Beavers 4-H Club were the first two groups to sign up for the program in the entire state. In 2013, Worthington Christian School students adopted a two-mile section of Minnesota 60 just south of Worthington from the Oceda Beavers.
Rebecca Arndt, public information officer for District 7 of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), remembers the excitement of the program being established.
“My phone just rang and rang and rang for weeks when the Adopt a Highway Program kicked off,” Arndt said. “Minnesota residents were calling and wanting to do this.”
Deb Martin, the Worthington FFA advisor, said it’s always a fun experience each year members do the cleaning, and it’s never a problem getting students to take part.
“One would think we would struggle to get people to participate, but we usually get 20 or 30 kids to come out after school to go pick up garbage every year,” Martin said.
Martin praised the students for their dedication and explained how much they seem to care about the task.
“Some of the kids get really disgusted and upset that people throw away so much garbage,” Martin said. “The kids are concerned about the environment, and they want it to look good. Hopefully having the kids see how much garbage they pick up will allow them to develop good habits and avoid littering in the future.”
Participants from the FFA group consist of not only FFA members but Worthington High School students who are in the ag classes offered at the school.
Before the volunteers head out to the section of highway they are about to clean they are provided with bright neon vests, garbage bags and a training video instructing them on items they may find that are safe to handle - and others that are not. In the case something unsafe is found they are advised to contact MnDOT, and then the professionals will dispose of it properly.
Martin said that - luckily, in the years she has volunteered - the group hasn’t come across anything dangerous, but added some pretty interesting things have been found, too.
“We find a lot of pop and candy wrappers, a lot of gallon jugs and a lot of straw bales,” Martin said. “We even find items that people lose, like hubcaps and metal parts from lawn mowers.”
She said there are usually eight small groups walking together, and that each group usually ends up filling two or three big garbage bags - which ends up being about 20 bags in total.
Not only do Adopt a Highway volunteers make the state’s roads look beautiful and clean, but they save the state lots of money.
According to a press release sent out by MnDOT, Adopt a Highway volunteers saved the state more than $7 million in 2014 alone. In that year, they picked up 970,000 pounds of litter, which equals more than 100 dump truck loads of garbage.
The program is staffed by more than 48,000 volunteers representing schools, businesses, non-profits, families and individuals. These groups clean up more than 10,000 linear miles of highways.
Arndt said MnDOT is thankful for all the hard work the volunteers do each year.
“Our roads have never looked better,” Arndt said. “Ninety to 95 percent of our roads are adopted. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for all they do.”
Those interested in participating in the program can visit mndot.gov/adopt/contacts.html for local contact information.