By Brooks Firestone

Contributing writer


For many years as a “road warrior” (a traveling wine salesman), I noticed the different amount of trash on highways. Some areas have clean and pleasant rights of way and other areas are full of trash thrown from vehicles and strewn on the roadside.

I remember being on a bus trip in Europe. We all noticed that the roads of Italy were messy but when we crossed into Germany, the roads were pristine. Why? Who knows?

We do know that our Santa Barbara County is relatively clean compared to other areas of California, and there are reasons for that. Perhaps our community population is a little less likely to toss trash out the car window, and we are also a little more likely to pick up after ourselves.

A stellar example of this is a Santa Ynez Valley resident, retired New York Lawyer Bill Connell. He inspirationally leads an informal group, “The Valley Clean Team,” that periodically tramps our roads and highways picking up trash and putting it into plastic bags that our county gathers from the side of the road.

The Clean Team meets on many Saturday mornings and welcomes volunteers — no experience necessary. Bill’s number is 805-688-8586. Everyone likes to go for a walk for exercise, so why not add the satisfaction of leaving a clean highway behind?

The county also maintains a program called REPP, or “Road Enhancement Partnership Program,” which has not received the publicity it deserves. It is designed to allow individuals or groups to adopt a piece of Santa Barbara County road. The sections of road under this program are few and far between, but the idea is good, and the program provides the means to clean up our highways on a regular basis. The county contact for this program is Kurt Klucker at 805-739 8774.

A much more vigorous program for road maintenance is the state “Adopt a Highway” plan. Here, an individual or organization can apply for a permit to maintain a given stretch of roadside under the Adopt-a-Highway State of California organization. The local regional coordinator is Keli Kolaczyk, an enthusiastic and helpful proponent of beautiful highways. She can be found at 805-542-4755 or Keli­

One ambitious Adopt-a-Highway project can be found at the interchange of 154 and 101 in the Santa Ynez Valley. The center section and some side roads are home for some 100 live oaks and white oaks that have been planted and maintained by an individual (me) who happens to enjoy this landscaping exercise and has a great affection for oak trees.

For some eight or nine years, these trees have grown. And as they say, oak trees take 50 years to grow, 50 years to live, and 50 years to die, so future generations will enjoy these trees long after I am gone.

When working on the trees or carrying water to them, I carry a permit that was secured after submitting a plan and undergoing a training program. The Highway Patrol sometimes stops to investigate what I am up to, but by now they mostly just wave. Watching the trees grow has brought me a great deal of satisfaction.

However road cleanup is accomplished, with a formal adoption or casual pick-up, the resulting beautiful highway scene is a boon to our community. A little thought about what to throw out of our vehicles and a little exercise in road cleanup and maintenance can make us all proud of our neighborhood.