Cleaning up: Volunteers help beautify ditches

It's a service to the community. It's a savings of $6 million to the state. And it provides a nice, clean welcome to the area. Those are a few of the reasons why the Adopt a Highway program is a success throughout Minnesota and here in Becker County.

It’s a service to the community. It’s a savings of $6 million to the state. And it provides a nice, clean welcome to the area.

Those are a few of the reasons why the Adopt a Highway program is a success throughout Minnesota and here in Becker County.

Across the state, volunteers with the Adopt a Highway program pick up 826,000 pounds - more than 100 dump truck loads - of litter annually, saving the state an estimated $6 million, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

It isn’t just a state program, though. MnDOT District 4 Adopt-a-Highway Coordinator Dar Hynding said many counties also offer adoption programs, including Becker County.

“For MnDOT, groups need to commit to two-year terms. We provide the bags and vests and also pick up the (garbage bags full of) trash that’s been picked up,” Hynding said. “During beet hauling, we try to encourage volunteers to pick earlier in the fall.”


The state’s Adopt a Highway program is staffed by more than 49,000 volunteers representing businesses, non-profits, families and individuals who are helping to clean up more than 11,000 miles of Minnesota’s highways.

The program saw an increase of 12 volunteer groups and more than 120 volunteers in 2013.

Though not new this year, one Detroit Lakes group that has been volunteering its time since 1990 is the Kiwanis Club. It was the first in Detroit Lakes to adopt a section of highway. Members pick up the trash along Highway 10 from the Highway 59 intersection west for two miles.

Member Dixie Johnson said the club started cleaning the ditches as a service to the community.

“It’s so important to do,” she said.
“It looks terrible if we don’t take care of things. It is just really important to keep it clean.”     

Another group that’s getting its hands dirty in the cleanup is Holy Rosary Church in Detroit Lakes. Organizer Mary Burnside said they started cleaning the section from Oak Grove Cemetery on Highway 59 North to about the 59er area.

“Holy Rosary School combined with a group called Catholic United Financial about five years ago, and in the fall, the members of Catholic United Financial do the cleanup, and then in the spring, the staff at Holy Rosary and any parents and volunteers do the cleanup,” she said.

The section they have been assigned just happens to be a little extra dirty as it is the route to the county landfill.


“We have lots to clean up,” Burnside said with a laugh. “Especially after a hard winter - there’s layers.”

While it’s a daunting task at times, especially when the weather isn’t conducive to cleaning up the ditches, the beautification pays off in the end.

“It’s an icky job, but it needs to be done. When people enter our city, they come in from that direction. It’s one of the first sections that introduces us to our city, and if it’s piled high with garbage…” she said, it doesn’t leave a good impression - especially for a tourist town like Detroit Lakes.

“Not that all areas aren’t important to keep clean. When we invite people into our city, we want them to know that our city is clean. It is our responsibility to keep it clean,” she said. “It’s something we can do together, and it looks nice when we’re done.”

“Because of volunteers’ contributions, our crews can spend more time on highway improvement and safety projects,” Ernest Lloyd, Adopt a Highway program administrator, said.

When someone agrees to be a part of the Adopt a Highway program, they must adopt the two-mile highway section for a minimum of two years and pick up the litter on both sides of the road both spring and fall, or more as needed.

MnDOT provides the trash bags for cleanup events and safety vests for each volunteer.

After the group completes its cleanup, MnDOT crews pick up the garbage bags and other larger materials from the roadside. State workers, not volunteers, are responsible for litter pickup along the interstate.


For anyone not certain of what section they want or if they want to make the commitment, they can test it out first with the Pick a Highway program. It allows an individual, family, business or group the option of trying out the program with a one-time pickup of litter along an unadopted section of state highway.

There are sections throughout Becker County that are available for adoption.

“We cover all state highways within the 12 counties for District 4,” Hynding said. “The only exceptions are on divided highways, like Highway 10 and I-94. We do not ‘adopt out’ the medians for safety reasons.”

He said some of the more remote locations where signs are not as visible are hardest to adopt out.

Those interested in participating in the program can visit for local contact information.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield .

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