Highway adoption programs have loyal volunteers
GRAND FORKS — As Master Sgt. Cathryn Acklin of the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron at Grand Forks Air Force Base walked alongside a busy roadway with 12 other military personnel to pick up trash in ditches, she didn’t consider the task to be work, but something else.
“This is our way of saying thanks,” Acklin said. “(The community) has been so supportive of us.”
The 3-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 2 west of Grand Forks has been adopted by the base as part of the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program, in which the group volunteers three days a year to pick up litter that accumulates from motorists throwing items from their vehicles and other stray trash that builds up.
Steve Arndt, the NDDOT traffic control supervisor and program coordinator for the area, said the number of groups adopting highways has dwindled in the last year.
“The groups are strong. They just can’t get enough volunteers to help pick up the ditches,” Arndt said.
The Grand Forks area falls into District 6 of the Transportation Department, and according to Arndt, there are 36 groups in the district adopting highways. He said a large concentration of adoptions is along Highway 2 and Interstate 29.
“The secondary roads don’t have a lot of groups,” said Arndt, who has served as a traffic coordinator for 16 years. “Through town it gets pretty dirty, and we’ve had groups drop out from 32nd Avenue to Washington Street.”
In its most recent trash pickup between those areas, Arndt said the Transportation Department collected nearly six tons of waste.
Back along Highway 2, Acklin said her group came across “basic trash,” some of which included cigarette butts, a license plate and half a tire.
“We’re not finding as much trash as I’m used to,” Acklin said, who is originally from Virginia.
In East Grand Forks, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is seeing a different volunteer trend, according to Anmari Conkins, District 2B Adopt-a-Highway coordinator.
“Ninety-five percent of the groups I have come back,” Conkins said. “I have a lot of turnover and I only get one or two groups who cancel for various reasons.”
With 230 active volunteer groups in her district, Conkins said 430 miles of state highways have been adopted. On average, the Adopt-a-Highway program saves the MnDOT an average of $5 million each year.
“(Money) is being saved by our state employees not spending their time during their job hours picking up garbage,” Conkins said.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation does not track how much money the program saves its department, according to NDDOT spokeswoman Jamie Olson. In recent years, Arndt said his district has placed ads in local newspapers asking for groups to volunteer.
“It was started up years ago and it was going fine, but it’s slowed down now,” Arndt said.
For Acklin and the other members picking up trash, the half a day spent volunteering was worth their efforts.
“Hopefully more people will get involved,” she said. “It’s something people should be doing because it’s our responsibility.”