Daily walks became the norm during the “stay-at-home” period, a time to enjoy exercise during the warm early spring days. My 4-mile walks with Sandy Berge-Holte were often along the 2-mile stretch of County Rd. 4 from 310 Pl. to the intersection at Hwy. 47, and return.
It was on one of those walks that Sandy mentioned she often picked up litter along County Rd. 4 over the past couple of years. She explained that county roads do not qualify under the Adopt-A-Highway specifications. “Do you think you’d like to join me? It’s a good time since the ditches have yet to “green up,” she asked. “Sure, I can do that,” I replied enthusiastically.
Well, I was in for quite an awakening. I’ve often seen groups, such as Boy Scouts and American Legion volunteers, picking up litter along the highways with their reflective vests and yellow trash bags but had never been involved in this project myself. But it was something constructive and environmentally-conscious to do since we were walking anyhow. And it was a great way to honor upcoming Earth Day on April 22.
So we started out at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 18, our hands rubber-gloved and pockets stuffed with bags. We decided to divide recyclables (cans/plastic) into separate bags from all other litter. It wasn’t long before we were leaving filled bags along the roadside.
So you might wonder, what did we find in those ditches? Well, the beer of choice in iridescent blue cans was Keystone. Bud Light, Coors and other brands were also prevalent. There were Coke, Mountain Dew and coffee-flavored drinks (Monster Java among others), vodka fifths, a 32 oz. Gatorade, fast-food wrappings with all franchises well represented, pieces of a plastic broom, a rubber mat. By far, the cigarette of choice was Marlboro with Camels a close second.
Among stranger finds was a young child’s pink winter boot—just one. A water-logged wallet (no money). And not one, not two, not three, but four small glass bottles of men’s Stetson cologne, all full, found on the return 2-mile stretch of road. Really? We both speculated why would anyone throw out all of these bottles at random.
After this experience, I have a new appreciation for those volunteers I see along the road several times during the year. Sandy and I felt we doubled our usual four-mile walk with all the ups and downs along the ditches as well as the countless bending over without “pickers.” And, of course, we both ended up with wet feet, trying to reach the one piece of litter that was just beyond our reach in often still-wet marshy grasses.
With both of us having some back issues, the last mile was a struggle, but our cars were soon in sight. Sandy looked at her watch. Wearily she said, “Do you know what time it is? It’s 1:18—almost four hours!” Followed by, “It was fun having someone to help.” Exhausted, we both laughed—what “fun!” After picking up the roadside bags, we headed home to relax our fatigued bodies in a warm bath, calling it a day.
Later upon seeing all the beer cans and alcohol bottles, Jim Holte quipped, “Well, so much for drinking and driving!” For our part, Sandy and I were quite dismayed at the quantity of trash picked up on both sides of that 2-mile stretch of County Rd 4. When we walked that route a few days later, we couldn’t believe the trash that once again littered the ditches. To our minds, there’s no excuse for pitching one’s trash out a vehicle window. Just take it home or put it in the waste receptacles at gas stations.
Since that experience a few weeks ago, I learned that in 2018, volunteers helped MnDOT realize an estimated $7 million benefit. I commend those community groups, churches, individuals and businesses that adopt-a-highway by picking up litter on both sides of a road at least two times a year for at least two years. If interested in this program, MnDOT provides bags, reflective safety vests, training and bag retrieval. Better yet, don’t litter!.
Linda Hommes lives on a small farm on Camp Lake in Kimberly Township. An outdoor enthusiast, she writes nature essays, memoir and poetry.