Keeping It Clean

TXDOT Recognizes Families of Cordillera Ranch for Adopt-a-Highway Trash Pick-up

By Julie Catalano

When Joe and Maureen Cheben took over the duties of coordinating the Adopt-a-Highway program at Cordillera Ranch in March, they inherited a 12-year legacy of hardworking volunteers so successful that the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) took notice.

The Families of Cordillera Ranch recently received an award of merit certificate that recognizes the “outstanding effort and generous contribution of time and energy to maintain the beauty of Texas roadsides through dedicated voluntary participation in the Adopt-a-Highway Litter Prevention Program over the period August 29, 2003 to August 29, 2015.”

That’s a lot of trash, but no match for the lively group that meets quarterly — January, April, July and October — to clean up the two-mile stretch of Highway 46 that starts outside the entrance of Coveney Ranch and goes towards Bergheim, ending near O’Brien’s Restaurant.

“The sessions are split into two different segments in the same week, one on Wednesday because a lot of people here are retired, and one on Saturday for the working people,” explains Joe.

The group starts around 9:00am with breakfast for the volunteers, followed by a safety briefing. The rules are simple but important, says Joe: “Don’t go where no person has gone before. If you see trash but it’s in really heavy weeds, don’t go in. If you see an animal, stay away. Don’t pick up anything biological like deer kill or bones because those are biodegradable. It’s the non-biodegradable stuff we pick up.”

That usually means plastic, and plenty of it — bottles, grocery bags (“they’re all over the place,” says Joe), containers, pieces of cars from crashes, the ubiquitous fast food refuse and “building materials, because there’s a lot of construction going on.”

The most unusual items they’ve found so far were women’s underwear — bras, panties, and on a possible related note, empty liquor bottles. The prize for most illogical rubbish, says Joe, “is when people have lunch, clean up after themselves, put all their trash in a bag, then hurl the bag out the car window.”

How long trash pickup takes depends on how fast they work, and how much has accumulated since the last pickup. Sessions can end anywhere from 11:30am to 2:00pm. “People really work hard,” says Joe. The ones who show up are all amazing, he adds, including longtime volunteer J.W. Pieper. “He’s a force,” says Joe. “He never complains, just keeps picking up stuff.”

Joe points out an important aspect of the volunteer program that residents may not know, especially those with teenagers. “Kids in high school often need service hours for scouting or whatever reason. They could use this activity as a way of satisfying that requirement.”

TXDOT provides trash bags, gloves, hats and orange vests — the latter especially crucial when cars are whizzing by (“we want to be abundantly visible,” says Joe). The most recent pickup was in April, with a total of 50 bags of trash. After all the bags are collected, adds Maureen, “we put them by the signs at either end of our stretch of highway, and TXDOT comes around to pick them up.”

The award from TXDOT was significant, says Joe, considering the length of time the program has been in place at Cordillera. “It’s really to honor all the people who have done this over the past 12 years.” That includes former coordinators Jerry Merritt, Wilt Shaw, Mike Minson, Ross and Dianne Bowen, and countless volunteers.

The next Adopt-a-Highway trash pickup is scheduled for July, and the Chebens will start sending out letters about three weeks ahead of time. They both say it’s a great way for the community to pull together. Four Cordillera groups get in the spirit by sponsoring the casual breakfasts that kick off every session: the Nature Club, the Ladies Social Group, Cordillera Property Owners Association (POA) and the Men’s Group.

It’s a spirit that Joe and Maureen intend to foster in their new roles as coordinators. “We all live here in this community,” says Joe. “We all live on this planet. If we can just spend a little time making it a better place, it doesn’t take that much. For all the people who pick up trash, this is their effort to make where we live a nicer place.”

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