These residents cleaned up 522, so can you
Jim Scolman photo
Area residents Amy Schlesener, Megan and Scott Andrews and Kim Westerhof, all in the photo,
were among dozens who worked to collect trash and litter along the Echo Lake / Fales Road highway ramps to state Route 522 on Saturday, April 23. By that afternoon there were many bags of collected litter awaiting pickup as part of the state Adopt-a-Highway program.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Echo Lake Community Club president Janet Macher was seeking an activity to forge bonds in her isolated, rural neighborhood between Woodinville and Monroe.
After considering several ideas, a consensus emerged: Clean up Highway 522.
So on April 23 for Earth Day, club volunteers kicked off a four-year commitment to pick up garbage along a stretch of the highway between the Paradise Lake Road and Echo Lake/Fales Road exits.
Donning orange vests, yellow helmets, gloves and trash-grabbing tools, they spent three hours bagging debris on each side of the roadway — and, for many, meeting each other for the first time.
“We’re just trying to help other people in the community to connect,” said Macher. “We’re all 5- to 10-acre lots with long driveways. I didn’t know anyone in my community except my immediate neighbors.”
The club began as an emergency preparedness group. It represents about 1,500 homes and 3,500 people who would be cut off by a major earthquake or similar disaster.
Highway 522 — the main route to summon help — provides a common denominator for residents to rally around.
“I’m a delivery driver, so I see a lot of trash,” said Wren Hein, who participated in the recent cleanup. “A lot of it’s on the highway. A lot of it’s in the Woodinville area, for some reason.”
Highway detritus caused Darleene Matheson, founder of the Snohomish Slayers cleanup group, to Google: “Why is there so much trash on the Washington state highways?”
She followed a link to the state Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program and eventually committed to four years of litter removal on Highway 522 from mileposts 16 to 18.
“I drive from Woodinville to Monroe every day and I could not stand around for another minute complaining about it,” Matheson said in an e-mail.
She began recruiting neighbors and friends.
The Slayers and another volunteer group, the Dirtbaggers, collaborated with Macher’s crew for the Earth Day cleanup.
Kenmore resident Susan Fleenor started the Dirtbaggers in 2019. She hoped to adopt a stretch of I-405 near the 160th Street NE exit because “it’s so trashy,” Fleenor said.
That part of the interstate was already taken, so WSDOT routed her to 522.
“I just have always wanted to adopt a highway,” Fleenor said. “It’s a really great way to give back to the community.”
Any volunteer group willing to commit to at least four annual cleanups for four years can contract with WSDOT. Businesses can sponsor road cleanups, too. They’ll get a roadway sign posted recognizing their efforts.
The DOT provides training and equipment, and picks up the garbage that crews bag and leave along the side of the road.
“One thing the DOT stresses is safety,” Fleenor said. “They’ve been great to work with; we’ve never had an incident.”
Cleanup volunteers must be at least 15 years old, and groups are limited to a maximum of 10 people per project.
Organizations have to perform two highway cleanups before they’re eligible to have a roadway sign honoring their efforts. One cleanup each year is always scheduled for Earth Day in April.
“The program is pretty formal,” Macher said. “They have safety guidelines set up; it’s very organized.”
For volunteers who don’t want to found and lead a group, the DOT can connect them with a group, or invite them into a cleanup project that’s lacking crew members. WSDOT’s Adopt-a-Highway contact for Snohomish County is Jim Lowell, firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-258-8300.
It’s a rewarding experience, Matheson said.
“I’ve done two days of litter removal,” she said, “and it has been a fun time getting to know all the wonderful volunteers who sign up to keep our roads clean. And it is so satisfying to drive by and to see the beauty again that is Washington.”
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