Adopt-a-HighwayYou’ve been there. It’s those moments where you walk along a stream, down a city trail or even motor along a highway and the sight of litter disrupts your view. I’m the first to grumble about tossed aside water bottles, the peppering of fast food wrappers, old tires and the bizarrely displaced shoe.

Someone should do something about this.

Just so happens there are some amazing individuals and organizations doing just that and I’m grateful for these “adopt-a” programs that make natural spaces and roadways slightly less of a litter hotbed. But the truth is, there are many miles of roadways, plenty of trails and a plethora of river and stream lengths that still need adoption. The good news is the steps to calling one of these areas your own are easier than you think.


I’ve been curious about how this process works, so I reached out to a few friends at the Iowa Department of Transportation overseeing this adoption process. They told me 27 percent of Iowa roadways are adopted, which still leaves many to be cared for. Here are the Adopt-a-Highway specifics according to the Iowa DOT:

  • The minimum distance for adoption is two miles for litter clean up.
  • You need to be willing to separate litter according to the requirements of the landfill used by the local Iowa DOT maintenance garage.
  • Your Adopt-a-Highway commitment lasts a minimum of two years.
  • Litter removal must be done at least twice a year or as necessary to keep the area clean.
  • The sponsor may retain any recyclables and take them to a recycler of the sponsor’s choice.
  • Signs featuring our state flower, the wild rose, will be erected by the Iowa DOT at no cost to the sponsor to recognize the efforts of adopting groups or individuals.

The adoption process is easy when you visit their slick adoption page, create an account and request a permit to adopt.

Adopt-a-Park or Trail

This is where our Iowa communities get creative because some allow you to adopt a bench, a park, a trail and Ames even lets you adopt a garden.

No matter what you adopt the goal for these public service programs is to invite volunteers to assist communities in keeping trails, parks and gardens beautiful. That’s a goal we certainly can get behind! Some of the specifics for these spaces vary but most include:

  • Picking up trash two times a month or quarterly
  • Reporting vandalism
  • Sometimes placing trash bags in trash receptacles
  • Clear out fallen branches
  • Kids 18 or younger who are adopting and cleaning up may need adult supervision

Perform a quick Google search for “Adopt-a-park programs Iowa” and you get pages of results of cities and parks hungry for your help. I encourage you to search your community online along with the kind of adoption you’re willing to do and see what pops up.

Bring an Army

It takes more than one person to make a difference, but when we pull together we can change the world. If you’re interested in parks, trails, streams or roadway adoption programs recruit others to your cause.

Some of the best crews for the job are church groups, office departments, scouting troops, clubs and even big families. If litter is impeding your views of Iowa’s landscape this might just be your heart nudging you to play a bigger role in keeping Iowa beautiful.