By Dave (aka The Turtle)
If you are like me, when you drive past those signs indicating that a section of a highway has been adopted by a given person or group you feel grateful for them doing that and the desire to do it yourself. However, if you are also like me you have dozens of excuses why you just never get around to doing it.
Well about 2 years ago I joined the Cascadians, an outdoor group focused primarily around hiking, and the group has for a long time maintained a section of one of Washington state’s picturesque highways (Highway 410 in the Cascade mountains). Twice a year a group of members is cajoled into giving up half a day that they would much rather have spent with their families and/or hiking, to walk along the highway picking up the trash that others so mindlessly left behind. Until recently I have managed to find (lame) excuses why I could not participate. This fall I was determined not to put it off any longer. Despite having plenty of things to do on that particular Saturday (including a Pig roast and the Fresh Hop Ale Festival) my older daughter (Susan 12) and I got up, dressed warmly, grabbed gloves and joined the group.
Eight of us met in a parking lot, loaded up into two vehicles and drove up to pick up the necessary gear: Orange vest, trash bags, and “Volunteer Litter Crew” signs. We broke up into four groups and started picking up the trash. The night before we had the first snow of the season (a tad earlier than normal) with rain showers in the forecast. So with rain gear and gaiters under our highly fashionable orange plastic vests we began walking up the highway through the light dusting of snow and wet brush.
The first thing I found was a few empty beer cans, and the number of those I found in the mile stretch that I covered gave me some idea of why this winding highway endures so many accidents during the year…it was a bit depressing. Aside from a pair of women’s shoes (in good condition) and a heavily rusted and banged up 30gal steel barrel, the trash I encountered was light and mostly unremarkable. The only notable exception was the various bumper/grill/headlight debris I found. Following the trail of what I originally assumed was the evidence of a small ‘fender bender’ I discovered the true cause. Along the side of the road was a freshly killed cow elk, with a car headlight still embedded in its side. Sadly, we were unequipped to deal with this and had to leave it as is (our total for the day was one deer, one squirrel, and my elk).
I found I really enjoyed the task. I got more pleasure from the task (despite its obvious discomfort and the distastefulness of having to pick up other peoples trash) than I had expected. To make the chore even more satisfying we received encouragement in the way of honks from a few passing motor homes and even an “I appreciate you guys doing this” from a hunter I ran into along the way.
We finished our assigned areas and met back up, only to find that my daughter was not with the rest of the group. Not knowing many of them very well, but knowing the caliber of people in the Cascadians I was not alarmed, but only curious. It turns out they finished their section early and my daughter found out one of the women with us was a mushroom expert. A few minutes later, the two came walking down a side road carrying a large bag full of fresh mushrooms, and my daughter was beside herself with excitement. Not only had she learned about a new mushroom (apparently very common in our area) that was very easy to locate and identify, but her new friend discovered what she believe to be a Matsutake (apparently very hard to find and expensive). Her friend explained how she was going to take the mushroom home so she could extract some of the spores to identify it. Susan was fascinated (and I have to admit so was I)!
We had a fantastic time and look forward to the spring highway clean up! I am even thinking about possibly adopting the section of highway just before or after this one, for our family to maintain.
If you are like me and have the desire to do this sort of thing, I highly encourage it. Find a group or contact your local highway or maybe forestry department and ask what you need to do. We found it rewarding and I think a wonderful lesson of community service for my daughter.