Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Forks local has been picking up litter for 27 years with Adopt-A-Highway program and says he is just getting started

By Tina Werner

A lot can change in 27 years. Just ask 79-year-old Forks resident Paul Hampton.

In 1996, Ebay and Major League Soccer started. Movie crowds cheered Will Smith in Independence Day while everyone was doing the Macarena. The Sonics reached the NBA Finals, only to lose to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. It was also when Paul decided to volunteer his time to pick up litter as part of the Adopt-A-Highway program in his community as part of the Forks Elks Lodge.

With the Adopt-A-Highway program celebrating its 33rd birthday this summer, we wanted to share the story of one of our long-standing volunteers – both to thank Paul for his service and to share a bit more about Adopt-A-Highway for others who may be interested in joining the ranks.

Paul moved to Washington from Florida in 1980 and began getting involved in his local Elks Lodge, attracted to the group’s vision for ongoing community service. He soon learned about our agency’s Adopt-A-Highway program and decided the Forks Elks Lodge needed to adopt a local stretch of highway in town to help keep their little corner of the Evergreen State clean and welcoming to visitors.

Forks Elk Lodge #2524 volunteers (left-to-right): Glen King, Paul Hampton, the late Gary Slyter and Bill Plumley stand by their highway sign a couple of years ago.

“It started as a group of people picking up trash along US 101 in town,” Paul said. “Then the local hospital thought it was a good idea to adopt a small stretch too.”

The community soon rallied around the idea of being part of something bigger and committed to routine litter cleanups. Before Paul knew it, people from all across the Olympic Peninsula saw the value in picking up litter.

“A group of women decided to participate in the Adopt-A-Highway program, so we had a friendly competition going with them too,” he said. Paul says the Forks community takes great pride in cleaning up litter to keep their community beautiful and he encourages others to consider serving – even those at his age.

Why do all this? Paul says his motto after being a retired Navy veteran and working for the Department of Natural Resources is to help people and make the world a better place.

Bags collected by the Department of Ecology Youth Corps program are picked up and disposed of by our crews.

Keeping Washington litter free

It takes a lot of work – and partnerships with local governments, businesses, law enforcement and fellow state agencies such as the departments of Ecology and Corrections – to clean litter from our roads, but the public also plays a crucial role.

We need the public to:

  • Properly cover and tie down all loads, on all trips
  • Keep trash and debris securely gathered in vehicles until you reach home, so it doesn’t fall out or fly out of vehicles
  • Properly dispose of all trash; do not dump it at rest areas, parking lots or other land
  • Share litter prevention messages with friends and family
  • If able, consider creating an Adopt-a-Highway group to join the valuable volunteers who help clear roadsides and other rights of way – like Paul!

Last year alone, our crews, partners and volunteers collected 1,402 tons of trash along state rights of way – roughly 152,500 bags of litter. This year as of July 20 we, along with agency partners and volunteers have collected 1,800 tons of trash and expect to surpass last year’s total.

Adopt-A-Highway volunteers pick up litter along SR 99 near Seattle. Most litter cleanup work happens between March and October depending on weather.

We oversee two different types of Adopt-A-Highway programs aimed at keeping the state’s roads clean and safe for residents and travelers.

  1. Volunteer groups
    • Groups agree to have their members clean up the "adopted" highway section four times each year and perform a valuable service to their communities.
    • We supply litter bags and safety materials/training and also collect full bags once a cleanup is complete.
    • Volunteer groups get their name on a roadside recognition sign within their adopted area, but no logo.
    • Details on how to get started as a volunteer group are available online.
  2. Contractors hired by sponsoring businesses/organizations
    • Businesses or organizations who choose to sponsor an adopted highway section agree to pay a private contractor to clean the area six times each year for a fee. (We approve all contractors and review contracts).
    • This can be the roadside, median or interchange (including some areas that volunteer groups aren’t assigned due to safety concerns).
    • Details on contractor sponsorships are available online.

A “family” of volunteers

What’s it like on a volunteer Adopt-A-Highway crew? Paul and his group of volunteers from the Forks Elks Lodge pick up trash like empty beverage containers, leftover fast-food bags and blown out tires from the shoulders of US 101. It’s not glamorous work, but the reward is knowing they’re making an important contribution to their town and their state.

In addition to the sense of service, Paul said he cherishes the relationships that have formed over the years through volunteering together along their adopted stretch of US 101. He describes his group as a family.

“People have started families, grown up together, had medical incidents or watched their children get married,” Paul said. “We always have people wanting to join our group and we welcome them.”

Litter cleanup is an ongoing effort and no matter how many volunteers we have picking up trash, it’s never gone completely. But Paul and his team give it their best effort – and he’s not slowing down anytime soon.

Paul and Elsie, his wife of 57 years, are living a wonderful life, he said.

“As long as I am still kicking, I plan to keep my own set of (litter) grabbers by my bedside,” he said.

Learn more about the Adopt-A-Highway program, including if an area near you is available for adoption online.