Two southeast Idaho groups come from strikingly different backgrounds but are united by a common goal of leaving the world a better, cleaner place.
Members of the Jason Lee United Methodist Church and trustees of the Power County Sheriffs Office will be honored next week for their shared commitment to clean Idaho’s highways of refuse left behind by others. Representatives of the group will be on hand Thursday to receive acknowledgment from the Idaho Transportation Board during its monthly business meeting in Pocatello.
For Power County inmates, the honor will be bittersweet – a time to celebrate six years of participation in the Idaho Transportation Department’s Adopt-A-Highway program, and at the same time a time to remember the late Deputy Milt Davidson, who helped organize the cleanup campaigns since 2000. Davidson recently passed away, but his legacy continues through the Adopt-A-Highway program.
Inmates adopted their first segment of Interstate 86 (mileposts 17-27) in April 2000, and during the ensuing years removed nearly 50,000 pounds of litter from the highway shoulders in 84 outings. This year alone they removed 5,425 pounds in 10 cleanups.
Twice since making the original commitment the inmates assumed additional stretches of the interstate: between mileposts 47 and 49 in September 2000 and mileposts 29 to 32 in March 2002. They collected 21,315 pounds of litter in 42 cleanups of the first segment and 16,345 in 22 outings on the second stretch. In 2005, they visited the first segment twice and gathered 1,680 pounds. On the second segment they picked up 2,870 pounds in four outings.
In all, inmates clean five areas, totaling 19 miles. Youth offenders, organized as Power County Community Boys and Power County Community Girls, began cleaning two new segments in 2005.
“They go out so often and pick up so much we gave them their own signs to put out for safety and provide as many boxes of bags as they can carry,” said Jerri Ross, who coordinated the District 5 Adopt-A-Highway program until her recent retirement.
The inmate groups have become known for going the extra mile, literally.
“They even pick up ramps and downtown business areas in American Falls," Ross said.
They have cleaned up litter from the Coldwater and Massacre Rocks rest areas five times, removing 1,015 pounds of trash; cleaned 2,695 pounds of trash from I-86 on- and off-ramps in eight outings; cleaned unadopted areas 12 times (5,530 pounds) and even cut and pulled weeds along Idaho 39 to prevent snow buildup along the guard rails.
Jason Lee United Methodist Church members were among the first groups to adopt a highway in District 5. They have been cleaning I-15 since 1990 as part of their church’s outreach program. They began with a segment from milepost 89 to 91, but exchanged that for one closer to their Blackfoot home, between mileposts 94 and 96 in 1999.
Their work would be much easier if everyone understood how difficult it is to keep the roadsides clean, said church Adopt-A-Highway organizer Sherie Wilcox. “If everybody would have to do a highway cleanup, they would think twice about throwing stuff out the (car) window. Cleaning up is not easy and is not nice, but we feel good about helping out."
Church members usually clean their adopted section at least three times a year. Money and golf balls are among the treasures they’ve found.
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 long – and take responsibility for keeping it clean through regular litter patrols.
More than 1,100 groups spent approximately 30,000-person hours statewide removing litter in 2005. About 50 percent of state highways have been adopted, leaving ample opportunities for other groups and individuals to become involved.
The volume of material collected from the shoulders of Idaho makes a tremendous difference in the appearance of Idaho’s highways, said statewide AAH coordinator, Sherie Sweaney.
Volunteers collected more than 2.3 million pounds of litter, resulting in a savings to the state of nearly a quarter-million dollars that can be applied to other projects that improve safety and driving conditions.
For more information about adopting a stretch of highway, contact Sweaney at (800) 443-2878.