Adopting a Highway

Article by Marcia Darnell

Highways – January 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

You’ve seen them along your commute, your pleasure trips, and the road to Grandma’s, those blue-and-white “Adopt A Highway” signs, informing you that some kind and dedicated group is responsible for trash pick-up for the next couple of miles.

You may have wondered what adopting a highway means; you may have wondered how to get a piece of the road yourself; you may have wondered why anyone would advertise a beautification program with scenery-blocking road signs.

The Colorado Department of Transportation allows any group, family, or individual to adopt a 2-mile section of highway. Basically, you agree to pick up trash along the road at least twice a year (preferably monthly) in exchange for free advertising. CDOT provides the orange vests and trash bags for pick-up day and collects said bags when you’re done.

The program saves taxpayer dollars in cleanup costs and encourages community participation in maintaining public property.

About 1,500 groups are now in the Colorado program. George Wilkinson with CDOT said his Section 7 office gets “one or two inquiries a week.” There is some turnover in adoptions, with some groups dropping out and others getting kicked out because they take the public recognition but don’t do the work.

Participants include clubs, church groups, families, political organizations, sports teams, and companies. In Central Colorado, they include the Villa Grove Area Merchant Association, the Monarch Mavericks Square Dance Club (in Salida), the Buena Vista Snowmobile Club, and Rocky Mountain SKPs (Salida).

Fans of the program like to trade favorite group names. Ed Quillen notes an area in Colorado Springs maintained by a Gay and Lesbian Alliance. He’s also heard that some roads in the South are cleaned by chapters of the Ku Klux Klan.

A friend of mine in Boulder says there’s a street east of the city maintained by a Swedish men’s organization. The Sons of Sicily also clean up in the Denver area.

Locally, Dr. Victor and Michelle Sierpina adopted a stretch of Colorado 17 near Villa Grove in 1991.

“We had just moved to the area,” Michelle explained, “and wanted to make a contribution to the community.”

She said the project helped unite the four families living along that road. This year, the couple had helpers for their start-of-summer cleanup.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into,” she said, “but after the first pick-up, we were glad we did it.”

Michelle also had nice things to say about the highway department. “They’re wonderful. You couldn’t ask for better assistance.”

Chuck Hackett in the Salida CDOT office praises the workers in turn: “The roads would be a mess without them!”

Hackett said that most of the adoptable road in Central Colorado is spoken for, but he has to kick “four or five people every six months” out of the program for not doing the job.

“I think the program works real well,” he affirmed.

There’s plenty of road and trash out there. To adopt a section of highway, contact your local CDOT office or call 1-800-999-HWYS.

And keep the road to Grandma’s clean for everyone.

Marcia Darnell lives and writes in Alamosa. Her favorite adoptive highway is the stretch of Federal Boulevard in Wheat Ridge cleaned by the Wiccan Network.