Beer bottles, soda cans and fast-food trash littered the side of Cumberland Drive.
A plastic bucket lay on its side, and waterlogged cardboard boxes had collapsed to the ground. Someone had tossed a rolled-up carpet in the weeds.
Teams of volunteers lined both sides of the road, wading through grass and weeds to get to the garbage. For the past three years, Franklin Community High School’s FFA program has taken on that roadway as its own and has committed to keeping it clean.
“Every time people drive down this road now, they know that we’re the ones in charge of it. We’re proud of that,” said senior Casey Campbell, a FFA member.
All over the county, organizations, families and businesses have taken responsibility to clean up the trash littering the county’s roadways. They’ll take to the side of the road two or three times a year to fill bags with bottles, discarded hamburger wrappers and other trash people have tossed from their vehicles.
Partnering with the Johnson County Solid Waste District, they volunteer their time to keep the county looking good. But there are many roads that still need to be adopted.
“We hope that people want to clean up the roadsides in the communities they live,” said Jessie Biggerman, director of the Johnson County Solid Waste District. “People want beautification in these areas, and they see a need.”
The Adopt-a-Road program has been in operation in the county for 15 years. Groups have to sign up to care for at least one mile of county roadway and stage a cleanup at least twice a year.
How to Help
What: A program that allows families, organizations and businesses to help clean the trash from stretches of road throughout Johnson County
Where: Any county road. Roads within cities and towns are not eligible
Who: Organized by the Johnson County Solid Waste District, with assistance from the Johnson County Highway Department
Requirements: Must sign up to care for at least one mile of roadway, participants must be at least 14 years old
Information: Contact the solid waste district at 738-2546
Bags, gloves and safety vests are provided by the recycling district for the cleanup crews. The county highway department partners with the waste district to pick up the materials collected during roadway cleanups.
“What we’d like to see is that groups are separating the materials, since most of what lands on the roadside is recyclable. We’d like them to bring us the recycling and have the highway department pick up the trash,” Biggerman said.
Franklin’s FFA has been in charge of a two-mile stretch of road near the high school for three years. Twice each year, about 25 students go out on Commerce Drive from Cumberland Drive to State Road 44 to clean both sides of the road.
“One of our big aspects of FFA is service. This does a good job of teaching the kids the idea of giving up time to do something for the community,” said Bill McIntire, FFA adviser for Franklin. “The fact that our name is stamped on it, and we’re responsible for keeping it clean, that matters to them.”
Rather than being a chore the kids drag their feet to do, the cleanup has become one of the year’s more popular events. Organizers have had to limit the number of people signing up to ensure everyone has something to do and no one is standing around.
The chance to be outside with friends, doing something good for their community, makes it easy to forget they’re doing work, Casey Campbell said.
“It gets our name out in the community. When people are driving on the road, they see that Franklin FFA. It says that we care about the community and the environment,” she said.
But in addition to providing a service, the cleanups also serve as a kind of treasure hunt as the participants look for the strangest things people have tossed on the roadside. They’ve found the normal glass bottles and plastic cups. But they’ve also uncovered love notes. One time, a student found a wallet, complete with ID and credit cards.
“She yelled out, ‘I’m going to be someone’s savior,’” Campbell said. “It was like two good deeds in one.”
Indiana American Water, based in Greenwood, started cleaning up its stretch of road in September. The company moved into its new facility on Pushville Road this year, and employees wanted to be good stewards of their new home.
Plus, coming to and from work every day, employees had mentioned how much litter lined the road, said Wade Amos, operations manager for the company.
“We all drive up and down Pushville Road every day, and we noticed that it’s really littered with trash,” he said. “Being new to this area, you thought it would be good to just adopt this road.”
The company has designated September as its community-service month, when employees are encouraged to participate in service projects. Organizers said they thought the two ideas meshed well, Amos said.
Though their stretch of Pushville Road from U.S. 31 to Emerson Avenue technically was annexed by Greenwood, and thus ineligible for the county program, Indiana American Water has decided to take responsibility for cleaning it up.
This year, officials at the Johnson County Solid Waste District set about updating their records and cleaning up the Adopt-a-Road program. They called organizations they had records for, checking to see if they were still keeping up with their section of roadway.
In some cases, those groups still were dutifully cleaning up their stretch of road. Other sections belonged to organizations that no longer existed.
Some groups had no idea their members had adopted a road years ago.
The district is determining how many miles of road are adopted but hopes to have that cleared up in the coming months, Biggerman said.
“I’ll be driving in some sections of the county and see signs that I had no idea existed,” Biggerman said. “We just try to take pictures when we pass them and hope that we can get a better handle on the situation.”