SIKESTON -- It's been 15 years since the Adopt-A-Highway Program originated, and although over 8,000 groups have volunteered for the program, the Missouri Department of Transportation is still looking for a few more green thumbs to aid in keeping the highways in top condition.
"We have plenty of road space available for adoption," Adopt-A-Highway Southeast District Coordinator Mark Aufdenberg said. "There's more to do than picking up litter."
Although picking up trash is the most popular form of adopting a highway, Aufdenberg said other adoption options exist. Adopters have three choices: litter cleanup, mowing and beautification.
While trash must be picked up twice every six months, the mowing and beautification are more of ongoing summer-type projects, Aufdenberg said. "Obviously you have to mow the grass more than two times in six months," he said. "A lot of the adopters who choose the beautification or mowing option are places of business. They want to keep their places looking good."
The beautification option encourages adopters to landscape and beautify roadsides. Officials suggest planting shrubs, trees and flowers to complement the surroundings.
According to MoDOT, Adopt-A-Highway also saves the state money. MoDOT spends about $6 million a year to remove litter and approximately $23 million to mow the grass on highway roadsides. Adopters who pick up litter save taxpayers about $1.5 million a year.
Among those who participate in the program are commercial and private enterprises, civic and non-profit organizations, families and individuals. Aufdenberg said many local churches, schools and law enforcement agencies volunteer their time keeping the highways clean.
The Rev. Alex Sims, pastor of New Morning Star Baptist Church in Haywood City, said his church youth group adopted a highway at the beginning of this year. "I saw that the highway was in very need of cleanup," he said. "I talked to the young kids about it, and they were excited."
Sims said the church adopted 1.5 miles of the highway from the bridge on Highway U to Highway 61. They've already picked up trash twice and expect to do it several more times before the end of the year, he said.
Obviously the community benefits from the pickups and cleanups, but Aufdenberg ensured the volunteers benefit from the program as well. "I think it gives them a sense of pride for the community when they help clean up the highways," he said.
Inmates from the Scott County Jail have picked up trash along Interstate-55 for about 15 years and were one of the first groups to become active in the program, Scott County Sheriff Bill Ferrell said. He thinks it's good for the inmates who volunteer to get out of the building for a couple of hours, and the end result is a clean highway.
Sims provides incentives such as snacks like ice cream and pizza for the 25 to 30 youth volunteers. It's good for the kids to do something worthwhile, he said.
MoDOT maintains more than 385,000 acres of right of way along 32,000 miles of highway. "A sign was put up on the highway that said for anyone caught littering, a $1,000-fine would be issued," Sims said. "I hope somebody listens."
Another benefit of beautifying the highways and communities is exercise. According to SHAPE Magazine, planting trees and flowers burns 280 calories, collecting recyclable items burns 374, picking up trash and painting over graffiti burns 296 and cleaning up a dumpsite burns 290 calories per hour.
"If people want to adopt a highway, it's in themselves," Sims said. "We chose to beautify the countryside and the highway that leads to Haywood City and the church. We think that's the cornerstone of the community."
For more information on adopting a highway, contact Aufdenberg toll-free at 1-888-275-6636.