Transportation board honors two groups for highway cleanup efforts

In one of Hollywood’s greatest thrillers of all time, Forrest Gump thoughtfully proclaimed: “Life is like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’ll get.”

A group of dedicated volunteers in northern Idaho could adopt the phrase as its operational motto.

When members of the Pierce Clegg Work Release Center in Coeur d’Alene embark on their regular highway cleanups they’re apt to find almost anything, from trash left behind by careless truck drivers to tools, hazardous items such as needles, suspicious packages and drug paraphernalia.

The work release crew, based at the Kootenai County Sheriff’s compound, recently recovered more than $300 in cash and a loaded handgun near U.S. 95. Several years ago, the cleanup crew found a variety of tools in a construction area; even after the construction activity ceased, they continue to uncover lost tools.

More than 95 percent of the county inmates participate in the litter pickup on U.S. 95, Interstate 90, and other rural roads.

“Occasionally they will get a call from a citizen who saw them picking up litter and stating that they lost sun glasses or some other item in the area of the cleanup and wanted to know whether their item had been found,” said Diane DuBos, ITD’s District 1 Adopt-A-Highway coordinator.

Last year, in weekend cleanup outings that spanned six months, inmates picked up more than 1,274 bags of litter from I-90, U.S. 95 and Idaho 97. The work release crew picks up on Saturdays and Sundays (weather permitting), and occasionally on weekdays.

“The Pierce Clegg Work Release Center is a volunteer group that is consistent, effective and very much appreciated,” DuBos said.

For that dedication the work release program was one of two groups honored by the Idaho Transportation Board as District 1 Outstanding Adopt-A-Highway group of the year.

“We don’t usually have such outstanding service as part of the Volunteer Services Program (usually one-time service), but when we do, we like to acknowledge it,” explains Sherie Sweaney, ITD Volunteer Services Coordinator.

A small group of senior citizens that formed a highway cleanup group 18 years ago also received Adopt-A-Highway honors for its longevity and consistency. The group memorializes friend and loved one Rae Adams.

The last survivor of three founding highway cleanup members lives in an elderly care center in Blanchard, explained Barb Hornby, Adams’ daughter. The original group passed the mantle to a second generation of volunteers that meets monthly and to plan outings.

They generally have five to 10 people for each outing, DuBos explains. The expanded cleanup area passes near property of Rae’s longtime friends and family members, “a friendly reminder of where it all stated." The group cleans Idaho 41 between mileposts 24 and 26.

Volunteers have found license plates, beer bottles, glass and “other items not fit for print,” DuBos said. “Last year they found a credit card, and just by reporting it and the location where it was found they were able to reunite it with its owner who had just had her purse stolen.”

“I selected the group based on its longevity and because the small group consistently picks up twice a year, and recently increased its section from one mile to two miles,” explains DuBos.

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. 

Approximately 1,100 groups spent nearly 60,500-person hours statewide removing litter in 2009, collecting an estimated 1.5 million pounds of litter from Idaho’s roadsides. More than half of Idaho’s highways have been adopted, leaving ample opportunities for other groups and individuals to become involved.

The volume of material collected makes a tremendous difference in the appearance of Idaho’s highways, said Sweaney, statewide AAH coordinator.

The estimated value of the cleanup labor is equivalent to more than $730,000 – savings that can be applied to other projects, improving highway safety and driving conditions. For more information about adopting a stretch of highway, contact Sweaney at (800) 443-2878.

Published 8-20-2010