BOISE — Some may say Idaho’s Adopt-a-Highway volunteers are overlooked and underappreciated, collecting trash along Idaho’s highways – often giving more than they receive. But amongst the discarded plastic, paper and aluminum, Adopt-A-Highway volunteers Mike Harkins and Gretchen Sherlin recently found their own reward.
The couple moved to Mountain Home two years ago, and soon began their highway volunteer work. Clad in orange vests and wielding pokers, they picked their way along miles of desert. U.S. Highway 20 is a hot spot.
Day by day, the faithful pair collected what would soon become a mountain of trash.
“We decided to start counting the number of cans we collected,” said Gretchen. “After one year, we have picked up 18,666.”
Their affinity for detail is a benefit to the community. Mike and Gretchen have recycled those cans, taking the time to remove the tabs, and donating them to the Ronald McDonald House in Boise.
The clean-up does more than beautify the land, though. Besides the broken glass, twine, and disposable diapers, discarded items open mysteries of personal stories.
“We’ve found cellphones, a laptop computer, a hide-a-bed,” said Gretchen. “We even found a certificate and plaque for a military person’s achievements.”
The couple also stumbles on their fair share of action.
“This past spring, we were picking up trash along a rural road (when) we noticed a herd of cattle. There was a cow frantically running back and forth, calling for her calf that was outside the fence. Realizing the drama unfolding before us, I herded the little calf about one-quarter mile on foot to a gate that my husband had opened, reuniting the little calf with its mother,” Gretchen explained.
The driving force for Mike and Gretchen is to improve the land and “giving the critters that live in the desert a cleaner habitat,” they said.
It seems all that good karma pays off. While making the rounds recently along U.S. Highway 20 near Mountain Home, movement caught Gretchen’s eye, according to an ITD news release. It was a piece of paper. Stooping down to pick up the piece of trash (as she’s done thousands of times before) Gretchen discovered this was no mere cast-off -- but a $100 bill! And its previous owner was nowhere in sight.
Was it a coincidence? A thank you from Mother Earth? Perhaps we’ll never know, but that piece of paper put a spring in Mike and Gretchen’s step as they collect a thousand more scraps of trash.
Are you interested in joining the Adopt-A-Highway program? If so, contact ITD at (208) 334-8000 -- or visit ITD online.
(photo courtesy: Idaho Dept. of Transportation)