Northern Wilds Magazine
Minnesota's Adopt-a-Highway Program began in 1990. | MNDOT
Along the Shore

Cleaning Minnesota’s highways through Adopt-a-Highway

The North Shore along Highway 61 boasts many amazing natural views, and committed residents, organizations, and businesses, from Duluth to Grand Portage, do their part in making sure it stays that way. Across Minnesota, the Department of Transportation (MnDOT) supports the Adopt-a-Highway Program.

The program began in 1990, when Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich visited Texas to meet with Lady Bird Johnson about their “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign to keep their state roadsides clean. Impressed with the program, Perpich charged state officials to implement a similar campaign in Minnesota. Now in its 33rd year, the program has grown with 900 segments of highway available to adopt throughout the state. The northeast region makes up 61 of those sections, each 2 miles long.

Adopt-a-Highway is a state agency program and is tax funded through the MnDOT budget. This funding is not a separate budget line item. Before 1990, MnDOT crews were tasked with the trash cleanup along the highways. Now, over 1,860 volunteer groups take over the job and in 2022 spent 88,100 hours keeping Minnesota roads beautiful. Over 38,000 trash bags filled by these volunteers were picked up along state roadways last year. Anne Meyer, a spokesperson for MnDOT, says it’s a “win, win for us. It allows crews to focus on other areas of road safety and keeps things moving.” Priorities such as fixing potholes and replacing fallen or damaged signs can be addressed in a more efficient manner, Meyer adds. Forty-eight other states also participate in a roadway cleanup program.

Two Harbors Community Radio has been part of the Adopt-a-Highway Program since 2019. | MICHELLE MILLER

There are two different options for interested groups and individuals to get involved. The first is to adopt a section of highway or rest area with a two-year minimum commitment. Or, you can pick a specific section of highway for a one-time litter picking activity. All the guidelines and directions for signing up can be found online. The benefits, in addition to personally contributing to a cleaner environment, include providing a public service project for groups or families, saving taxpayers money, and showing that Minnesotans care about their state.

Two Harbors Community Radio (THCR) has been part of the Adopt-a-Highway Program since 2019, adopting the expressway section south of Two Harbors by Ryan Road. Volunteer organizer, Paul Hanson, shares “MnDOT works very well with the highway cleaning volunteers, and the signup process was quick.” MnDOT sends the group interested in volunteering a form asking basic questions, which includes contact information for a designated group coordinator. Instructions are then given on how to properly clean a 2-mile portion of a road. A two-year commitment is requested, and volunteers generally choose to manage their sections twice a year—in the spring and fall. Hanson adds that, “the MnDOT coordinator is readily available for questions.”

MnDOT supplies the garbage bags, safety vests, and coordinates the pickup of trash once the job has been completed. If there are large or hazardous items, just let them know and crews will take care of those, as well. Groups are also recognized by a sign posted on their portion of highway, displaying what year they became a member. Many groups have been involved since the beginning. “It is really a testament to Minnesota’s commitment,” says Meyers. Meyer also notes, “you may see signs with different designs. That’s because individual cities and counties also have their own version of the program for the roadways they are responsible for.”

Hanson sums up the program. “The THCR world looks better, which is more or less part of its mission to improve the community that it serves. A portion of the Two Harbors Expressway looks great, and garbage and debris are eliminated from the environment.”

More information on the Adopt-a-Highway Program can be found online at:

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