Adopt-A-Highway volunteers find treasures among the trash

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Overlooked and underappreciated, those that collect trash along Idaho’s highways give more than they receive. But among the discarded plastic, paper, and aluminum Adopt-A-Highway volunteers Mike Harkins and Gretchen Sherlin have found their own reward.

The couple moved to Mountain Home two years ago, and soon began their charity. Clad in orange and wielding pokers, they picked their way along miles of desert. U.S. Highway 20 is a hot spot.

Mike Harkins stands beneath the Adopt-A-Highway sign with his and Gretchen's name
Mike Harkins stands beneath the Adopt-A-Highway sign with his and Gretchen’s name

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 the benefit to the community. Mike and Gretchen have recycled those cans, taking the time to remove the tabs and donate them to the Ronald McDonald House in Boise.

The cleanup does more than beautify the land. Besides the broken glass, twine, and disposable diapers, discarded items open up mysteries of personal stories.

“We’ve found cell phones, 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,” said Gretchen. “We noticed a herd of cattle and 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 1/4 mile on foot to a gate that my husband had opened, reuniting the little calf with its mother.”

The driving force for Mike and Gretchen is to improve the land and “giving the critters that live in the desert a cleaner habitat.”

It seems all that good karma pays off. While making the rounds, movement caught Gretchen’s eye. 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, it’s previous owner 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.

Interested in joining the Adopt-A-Highway program? Contact ITD at (208) 334-8000 or visit us online at www.itd.idaho.gov/road-mtce/?target=volunteer-activities.

Source: Idaho DMV

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