Every spring, snow melts in Minnesota to reveal thousands of pounds of litter strewn along state highways.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation's Adopt a Highway program, which started in 1990, recruits residents and community groups to help clean up. Without those volunteers, the state says it would be spending millions more on maintenance.
On Saturday afternoon along State Highway 36 in Lake Elmo, a group of about a dozen volunteers prepared to clean up four miles of grass along the highway outside Rockpoint Church.
Church member Randy Capra, who has been heading up Rockpoint's Adopt a Highway volunteer effort for seven years, led a group through the logistics of clearing litter.
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"We have found so many things — we have found wallets with money in it, even knives," Capra said.
On Saturday, the group found plastic bottles, tires, scraps of paper and plastic. In a day's work, Capra said his volunteers will fill up 30 to 40 large trash bags — and Saturday was no exception.
"I think all of us have seen stuff fly out car windows," Capra said. "It is a bit disheartening, but it is what it is and that is why we have these cleanup days and help make the road look better."
According to MnDOT, Adopt a Highway volunteer groups spent an estimated 239,000 hours picking up trash in 2017. The volunteers picked up more than 112,000 pounds of litter, bringing an estimated $6 million benefit to the state.
Another volunteer on Saturday, Scott Peterman, brought his 10- and 13-year-old children with him to help clean up.
Peterman said he got the idea when his family visited Haiti last year and came back feeling especially grateful for cleaner roads. "This is why it is clean," Peterman said. "It isn't that we aren't capable of throwing garbage (away), it is that people actually come and clean it up. We wanted to show our kids that it does take hard work to do those types of things."
MnDOT reports there are more than 4,000 groups and 16,000 people in the state who are Adopt a Highway volunteers, but they could use more, because thousands of miles of roads are still available for adoption.
Several counties offer similar highway cleanup programs.
For more information on MnDOT's Adopt a Highway program and to sign up, click here.