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Minnesota's highway beautification program reaches milestone

FARGO Thomas Tomporowski has been helping keep roadways clean for many of the 20 years the Minnesota Department of Transportation has operated its Adopt-A-Highway program. Once or twice a year, the media specialist at Perham High School and fello...

Litter pickup along highways
Moorhead firefighters Rich Eggert, left, and Erick Brager pick up trash Thursday along Interstate 94 southeast of Moorhead. (Michael Vosburg / The Forum)

FARGO

Thomas Tomporowski has been helping keep roadways clean for many of the 20 years the Minnesota Department of Transportation has operated its Adopt-A-Highway program.

Once or twice a year, the media specialist at Perham High School and fellow members of his teachers union - Education Minnesota-Perham - gather at the Pamida store in Perham before heading out to pick up trash along the ditches of Highway 10.

They usually choose a Saturday or Sunday, but this past week the group headed out one day after school.

After the cleaning was accomplished, the union provided pizza for those who turned out, including children of teachers, Tomporowski said.

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Last year, when teacher turnout for a clean-up effort was low, national honor society students were enlisted to pitch in.

"That helped immensely," Tomporowski said.

One reward all volunteers receive is the satisfaction of having the name of their group displayed on a sign posted next to the highway.

And it seems to be enough for most.

"People really like their signs; they just love 'em," said Marleen Anderson, a MnDOT worker who coordinates the Adopt-A-Highway program for a large chunk of west-central Minnesota.

Anderson said groups are asked to make a commitment of at least two years and are given a two-mile stretch of roadway to keep tidy.

Volunteers pick up trash about twice a year, once in the spring before the grass gets too tall and again in the fall, usually after things have frozen up, Anderson said.

Churches, civic clubs and college students make up many of the groups, but increasingly, families are taking part, too, according to Anderson.

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"Maybe the mom and pop will live near the highway, so when they're walking, they'll stop and pick things up," Anderson said.

A stretch of Interstate 94 about 11 miles east of Moorhead is the cleaning domain of members of the Moorhead Fire Department.

Helping keep Minnesota roadways presentable is a good feeling, said firefighter Greg Doeden, who along with several colleagues did spring cleaning this past week.

Doeden said he hasn't come across anything too unusual in the years they've been picking up litter along the interstate.

"There's a lot of gross things, but nothing of value," Doeden said.

The volunteer effort, which turns 20 years old this year, has saved the state millions of dollars, money that instead goes to highway improvements and safety projects, said Jan Ekern, statewide coordinator for the Adopt-A-Highway.

She said the state has more than 12,000 miles of highway, of which 9,800 miles are adopted.

About 4,500 groups and approximately 45,000 volunteers are registered to clean up along highways.

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And they do a lot of it, according to Ekern.

"Adopt-A-Highway volunteers pick up 26,000 tons of litter per year," she said.

How to help

Anyone interested in adopting a highway can go to the Minnesota Department of Transportation website, http://www.dot.state.mn.us/adopt/contact.html , to find out the person to contact in their area.

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