Thousands of groups — from civic organizations to fraternities — spend at least one day each year cleaning up litter strewn along side roads that they’ve “adopted.” They’re part of the successful “Adopt A Highway” program the state has had in place for nearly three decades.
The Pittston Kiwanis Club and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Dallas Township are the two organizations that can boast they’ve been adopting roadways in Luzerne County the longest. And after 23 years, group members said they hope to be involved for decades to come.
Joe Hardisky, an organizer with the church, said his group started by adopting a two-mile stretch of Route 309 in Shavertown but when the church relocated about five miles away to Route 118, it decided to adopt another road closer to the church.
Hardisky said church members wanted to help their community but had no idea what the annual responsibility would entail. They soon found out.
“I remember the first time we did this, we had a mountain of tires, a sliding board, a lot of trash. It was really, really bad,” Hardisky said.
But they came back for more, armed with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation donated gloves, reflective vests, trash bags and safety signs.
Making a difference
Twenty three years later, Hardisky said he believes his group and others throughout the state are doing their part and making a difference.
The volume of trash has noticably decreased, according to some associated with the program for years.
Ron Faust, of West Pittston, has been joining the Pittston Kiwanis Club for their two or three outings a year to clean up a stretch of Oak Street in Pittston Township.
He said while there is still plenty of trash to pick up, he has noticed a dip in the amount they collect.
“The earlier years it was a lot dirtier,” Faust said. “Maybe society has become more cognizant of litter.”
Hardisky reported the same findings along Route 118 near Route 415 where the church group cares for the thoroughfare’s cleanup.
“It’s lessened over the years,” said Hardisky. “We don’t find as much as we used to so we have had an impact.”
While the two-mile stretches of roads are looking better, Faust said he has noticed how other roadways look and believes more groups need to think about adopting.
“Unfortunately there’s a lot of areas that could use this type of program,” Faust said.
According to PennDOT spokesman Michael Talluto, about 175 organizations have adopted roadways in Luzerne County this year.
While most adopted roads are state routes, there are some less-travelled strectches that are also adopted, including Pond Mountain Road in Conygham Township. The road leads from Route 239 up to the entrance to Lilly Lake.
The property owner’s association at Lilly Lake has been cleaning that road for 22 years and Mike Roke, a property owner in the community who lives year-round in Newport Township, has been doing it since the beginning.
He said the size of the group varies each outing, but people always show up and do what they can to keep the road they travel the most as liter-free as possible.
Sense of pride
Roke said he feels a sense of pride when he drives to and from the lake and sees the sign bearing the association’s’s name and noting they have adopted that highway.
But Hardisky voiced some frustration, too.
“Sometimes it gets frustrating when we clean up the highway and a couple of days later there’s debris,” he said.
And there are some downsides to having your name displayed on a road that’s litter-filled. It could reflect poorly on your organization. Though the signs are also free advertising and in one instance was cited for bringing a new congregant to a church.
Hardisky said one family that moved in to the Back Mountain saw the sign, appreciated the community-minded spirit and became congregants of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
Those Adopt a Highway signs, which have become synonymous with the effort, are a nice way to give credit to groups that spend a few hours of their year picking up other people’s garbage, helping the environment and putting their own safety at risk.
Hardisky recalls some close calls along Route 309.
“Route 309 is really scary. Even though you have signs trucks keep flying by and there’s very little room between the edge of the road and an embankment,” he said.
The work of the volunteers does not go unrecognized by PennDOT.
“The department saves a little over $32 million with the Adopt-A-Highway program,” said Anna Furh, the District 4 Adopt-A-Highway coordinator. “Volunteers and employees enjoy the camaraderie of working together and to be able get the instant gratification of cleaning a debris-ridden area and turning it into a cleaner safer area.”