NorCal Cleans Up along northbound Hwy. 101 near Gilroy, CA

Adopt-A-Highway made it possible

Maybe the Empty Nest Syndrome explains why an otherwise sane person would adopt a two-mile stretch of highway that looked like the kids had just trashed it. And Maybe that’s why the NorCal Club decided to Adopt-A-Highway.

Ed Perry, NorCal Club’s Historian, had retired and had more time to travel the world, often by motorcycle. And as he travelled around California, his home state, he started noticing the increasingly littered highways. To Ed, California was looking like many of the littered third world countries he had visited. Something had to be done and Ed was starting to also notice the Adopt-A-Highway signs with an 800# to call. He became determined to do something about it, even if he couldn’t convince others to help.

Ed can be pretty persuasive, and the San Francisco Bay Area NorCal club agreed to Adopt-A-Highway, as long as Ed handled the details. But, first a little history about this particular voluntary way of performing community service.

US 101, when it was established in 1926, was one of the original national routes, running through California, north-south, from San Diego on the Mexican border, up to the Oregon border. Over time, 101 has been dissected in places, superseded by other highways, yet remains the longest highway of any kind in California. North-south will do that in a state that’s 770 miles long and 250 miles wide.

The Adopt-a-Highway program, also known as Sponsor-A-Highway, got its start in the 1980’s in Texas. The program began in California in 1989. The difference between the two names is that Adopt-A-Highway, now in 49 states, means that a sponsoring organization’s members volunteer to pick up trash along a highway. Sponsor-A-Highway means a sponsoring organization pays someone else to pick up the trash, but still gets their name on a sign.

A year ago Ed got the go-ahead to contact Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) to get the ball rolling and to follow through. Each state and each bureaucracy has its own “application process,” which normally takes from one to three months to complete. At the end of the process one of our club members, Ted Crum, who’s also our club’s Tour Captain, designed the graphics which had to meet specification. Caltrans then gave us a blank white panel that was taken to a recommended sign maker who charged about $150 to make our sign. Then the completed panel was returned to Caltrans for installation on one of their Adopt-A-Highway signs.

Then there’s the safety orientation training for a minimum of two designated “Safety Officers.” We had three; Ed Perry, Steve Kesinger and Fred Montaño, who attended a safety training class at a nearby Caltrans “Maintenance Station.” They were issued twelve sets of safety equipment (no charge), which included colorful safety vests (color coordinated with the sign), hard hats, gloves, safety glasses, trash pickers, and lots of trash bags. Club members who participated also had to go online for a shorter version of the safety training. There’s also some documentation to be carried by each group when doing a cleanup.

Now that NorCal Club has been out on its first cleanup, what was it like? Twelve club members met for breakfast, geared up, teamed up in groups of 3-4, then drove to their 100-200 yard section, and did their thing. Once a section was “cleaned” we moved to the next section. After about three hours and about 80 full trash bags later the deed was done. Then a month or so later it repeats.

Inquiring minds wanna know, what kind of weird trash did you guys find? Well, no guns, needles or dead bodies, though I suppose that’s possible. Mostly paper, cardboard and plastic trash, intermixed with the occasional stuffed toy animal, pieces of wood, and plastic bottles and cans. And I even found a rotary saw blade…

Would we do it again? Heck yeah! And to keep the club interest up we’ve made our little piece of clean highway a waypoint on some of our weekend group rides, and yet another way to cope with Empty Nest Syndrome.

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