We have all seen the signs ‘This mile of highway adopted by Joe Mechanic’ or ‘This park maintained by the Knights of the Round Table’. The signs often make me laugh, especially when I see companies that have terrible stewardship programs adopting highway miles or parks. I am sure that Exxon Mobile must have adopted an extra hundred miles after the Valdez incident to improve their status with the general public.

The part I really hate is when you travel that mile of road, or use that park and it is a mess. So many times I have looked at the side of the road or the median and see trash. Highways are often designed more as Parkways in the traditions of Olmstead, bordered by wide swaths of landscape, lined with trees and kept as natural as possible for the pleasure of the driver and the separation from the adjacent homes and businesses. When these areas become infested with litter they seem to be nothing more than big trash bins.  

The parks are often worse. All to often I take my son to the park and the swing-sets are littered with cigarette butts or empty water bottles. On nice afternoons I see hundreds of families come and go with their children to enjoy their time outdoors  together. When the parks are full of litter it is both gross and in some ways dangerous as little hands find bits of glass, or cigarette butts. The park litter requires parents to be more diligent at what should be a playful safe time.

Besides being messy, these places are not just conveniences to all of us, but are also habitats for animals and insects. In some parts of the world medians and parkways are critical acreage for certain species of animals. If we choose to wall them in with busy highways we should also make the effort to maintain their homes.

So that leads me back to my initial point, what ever happens to the folks who adopt a highway but never do anything with it? Is there a phone number I can call or an email address I can write to tell Joe the Mechanic that his mile of route 78 has been trashed and he should get out here to clean it up? Where is the ‘How are we doing’ box at my local park to tell the ‘Knights of the Round Table’ that they need to get a clean up crew to the park on Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings in preparation for the weekend crush of toddlers and strollers? What responsibility do these surrogate caretakers have for the places they adopt?

As I did a little more research I found out that there is at least one place to reach out. In a number of states the actual care for the highway miles are done by a corporation that sends out crews to maintain the roads. It seems like quite a tidy business, but clearly they aren’t keeping up with crap we keep throwing out our windows. Adopt A Highway works in 15 states to maintain miles for busy corporate sponsors.

http://www.adoptahighway.com/home.html

They are only one company that does this dirty work. In some states the work is done by volunteer groups, state workers or prisoners. Either way it takes many hands to keep our medians and parks clean.

Here is what you can do to help. First, don’t litter. That is the obvious one. Second keep a trash bag in the trunk of your car or your stroller. If you are out and about and see a bunch of litter in a place that you use, take 10 minutes and clean it up. Your action will both help to clean up the outdoors and will set an example for the next person. Lastly tell people about it. Write a letter to the company or municipality that is supposed to maintain that area and remind them of their responsibilities.  Tell them how you helped out on a given day and make suggestions about when and how they should clean the place up.

Maybe we should change all of those signs to read ‘This mile of highway LAST maintained by Jimmy’s Mom and Sammy’s Dad’. Each time one of us takes out the trash at a park we can put our name on the sign with a date to remind people it takes a little effort by all of us to keep these places clean.

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