Adopt-a-Highway and Adopt an Important Role in Your Community

July 1, 2010


[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly church activities, Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays]

Adoption is a word Christians may be more accustomed to using and hearing than most folks. For instance, we talk a lot about adoption on its greatest scale: our adoption as children of God through Jesus’ death and resurrection (Galatians 5:4), and our groaning as we wait with anticipation for the fulfillment of that adoption (Romans 8:23). You may also know, or even be, a Christian family that has adopted a child in need of a loving, stable home. And on this site in the past we’ve provided a guide for partnering with animal shelters to raise the profile of pets that need to be adopted.

Adopt-a-Highway sign against a sunrise

It's uncommon to see church names on Adopt-a-Highway signs. We can change that! (cc image courtesy Chazz Layne via flickr)

But there is a kind of adoption that is less talked about in church communities, even though you’re likely to see evidence of it every time you drive your car on a major thoroughfare. That’s right, we’re talking about those big “Adopt-a-Highway” signs on the side of the road. Your church’s name could be on one of those.

What exactly does it mean to Adopt-a-Highway, and how do you do it? Here’s your guide to a remarkably simple, tangible, and important way your church can care for the creation in its own community:

The on ramp:
Begun in the 1980s, today Adopt-a-Highway programs are nationwide and even have some popularity internationally. Through them, local individuals, religious groups, businesses, and organizations take responsibility for cleaning and maintaining a section of roadside in exchange for some visibility on those familiar blue signs.

Although the specifics of the program vary from state to state, in general the adopting group (in your case your church) coordinates with officials at the Adopt-a-Highway program to choose and begin caretaking a roadside plot of land. Usually an Adopt-a-Highway site is a mile or two long, and depending on the kind of road it borders, will require clean up on both sides of the road. The Adopt-a-Highway permit your church will agree to will likely last two years and be renewable after that point if you choose to continue volunteering. Once the permit has been made official, a sign with your church or ministry’s name on it can be placed at the site to acknowledge your work and encourage others to adopt a highway as well.

Litter removal is the primary purpose of volunteering with an Adopt-a-Highway program. However, some states also provide participants with the option of removing graffiti; controlling weeds and invasive brush from the roadside; or planting trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. In working closely with your local Adopt-a-Highway coordinator, you’ll be able to determine how your group can best maintain and cultivate this little patch of green earth, and you’ll be provided with the appropriate supplies and safety equipment to do so.

So how do you get started?

  • Gather support: Get the word out to your church that participating in an Adopt-a-Highway project is a responsible act of both stewardship and civic engagement. Plus, it’s easy! Volunteers from your congregation can participate on a one-time basis, but before you seek a permit and a plot of roadside ground, it will be best to gather a core group of committed members. With pastoral approval, announce the adoption at church to encourage a sense of ownership for that little piece of earth. Before you know it, you’ll have church members approaching you after service with suggestions for local wildflowers to plant or to inform you that more litter should be removed from the site.
  • Contact your state Adopt-a-Highway program: Using the website for your state listed at the end of this article, find your local Adopt-a-Highway representative to get the specifics about your commitment and then to officially make that commitment. This coordinator will assist you with the permit application process and the logistics and equipment you’ll need throughout the duration of your “adoption.”
    Highway clean up crew member

    Snazzy orange safety vests? The state will provide them for you. (cc image courtesy WSDOT via flickr)

  • Choose a site: Some states require adopting organizations to work with an Adopt-a-Highway coordinator to choose a pre-approved segment of road to clean and maintain. Other states leave the decision up to you. If you can choose a stretch of road, choose wisely according to the symbolism and relevance you wish your choice to have (you may want to choose a stretch of road that fronts your church property or a neighborhood where your church is already doing ministry), the need of the area to be cleaned and maintained (land near a fragile environment may be in special need of maintenance for that ecosystem to remain healthy), and practical issues of safety and distance (if you anticipate children volunteering, choose a safer, less-trafficked street).
  • Schedule activities: Learn from your local Adopt-a-Highway representative how many times your adopted roadside will require litter removal or upkeep, and schedule volunteers ahead of time to make sure that the area’s needs are taken care of. Find out if any activities besides litter removal are available for your group to participate in, and schedule seasonal volunteering accordingly so that your group can be involved in an extra measure of cultivation.
  • Get out there: Adopt-a-Highway programs are so easy because your state provides you with all you need: advice, equipment, safety gear, safety signs, and more permanent signs to signify a stretch of road as under your care. All you have to do is get a group out on the road! Start the volunteer time with prayer for safety and for the healing of your adopted roadside. With a number of volunteers, the actual clean up activities won’t take long at all. When they’re complete, gather everyone for a meal and to discuss the experience of taking care of some common ground as God’s stewards. And don’t forget to take pictures of yourselves in your snazzy orange safety vests!

Cruising along: Although participating in an Adopt-a-Highway program affords your church the opportunity to directly care for God’s creation (and get some public recognition for it), it also relieves highway maintenance crews and funds. Litter removal costs millions of dollars and lots of time. Your church is providing a service to both God and your local community, so caring responsibly and dependably for your roadside space is very important. Providing reliable service will not only enable you to keep or renew your adoption permit, but it will demonstrate the love of God’s people for both creation and community.

Find your Adopt-a-Highway Program
A listing of available state Adopt-a-Highway program websites:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota (contact the “Area Engineer” closest to your location), Tennessee, Texas (home of the Adopt-a-Highway pilot program!), Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Dirty Dozen Adopt-a-Highway sign

(cc image courtesy .through my eye. via flickr)

Related Posts at Flourish
Streams in the Desert: 5 Steps Toward Restoring Waterways as a Church

Further Reading
In lieu of cleaning roadsides with their own volunteers (especially if the land is alongside a dangerous road), some groups prefer to pay a litter-removal company to maintain their adopted land. This is often called “sponsoring” a highway, rather than “adopting” it. Here are several companies that will do litter removal on sponsored land, for a fee:
Adopt-a-Highway Litter Removal Service of America
Adopt A Highway Maintenance Corporation

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