Adopting a highway sometimes means using professional help

{A href=""}BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Volunteers say they're doing everything they can to clean up freeways through Kern County, and it turns out some of the groups "adopting" freeways are getting professional help.

Many local residents complain the freeways have more trash than ever, prompting a look at that long-time "Adopt a Highway" program.

"We feel good about being able to participate in just 1 mile at a time," Bakersfield Marriott general manager Carlos Navarro said. "That's where I take pride."

The Marriott adopted a stretch of northbound Highway 99, just north of Panama Lane about a year ago.

But, employees of the hotel aren't the ones out doing the clean up. "There are different adopt a highway companies," Navarro explained, saying he knows of two. They hired one of those private companies, and the hotel is very pleased with the results.

"We saw it as a good opportunity to partner with a company that can help us advertise, and keep the highway clean," he said. The Marriott's "Adopt a Highway" sign sits next to the busy freeway, and the crew from the special company is out there once every other month.

"They hire professionals," Navarro said. "They hire individuals who take care of this." He said the professionals have special safety training that allows them to work on the side of the freeway.

That's not something volunteers with Keep Bakersfield Beautiful can do, according to that group's spokesman John Enriquez. "We're not allowed on the main stretches of Highway 99 because of safety issues," Enriquez told Eyewitness News. That's why the group's volunteers work around on- and off-ramps.

Caltrans spokesman Jose Camarena said volunteers can work on the freeway, if they get safety training which the department provides. "They have to go through the training program," he said. Camarena said there are areas where crews from a private company may work alongside "adopter" volunteers. Everybody has to be safety trained.

The training is important because of hazards along the sides of the highways.

Inmate crews, with training and supervision, used to clear litter from freeways in Kern County. That ended about 18 months ago when the state made changes to the prison system, and Community Correctional Facilities were closed down.

"There were four crews each and every day on our freeways, Monday through Friday for eight hours," Enriquez said. "They were able to pick up a lot of trash. Unfortunately, Caltrans -- they just don't have the manpower or budget to do that." He said Caltrans crews still work on litter removal when they can, but it's clearly not the same.

He hopes inmate crews can be restored, once CCF's like the one in Shafter get contracts to hold inmates again.

Enriquez said his group has volunteers out every Saturday, and they clean all the major freeway ramp areas through Bakersfield. That work is done in cooperation with Caltrans. His group notifies the department where the crews work, and how many bags of trash the volunteers picked up. Caltrans picks up the bags on Monday or Tuesday, Enriquez said.

But, litter that ends up blighting the freeways all comes from somebody's car, or blown off some truck. Enriquez hopes for more emphasis on preventing highway litter in the first place.

"We really need to do a good job of letting people know that they need to take pride in their community," he says. Enriquez hopes to see more programs in elementary schools.

Keep Bakersfield Beautiful can always use more volunteers. The group can be reached by calling the City of Bakersfield at 326-3539.

At the Marriott, Carlos Navarro said they have a two-year contract with the private company that clears their adopted mile. "They have to clean it all, your mile gets completely cleared of trash," he explains. The company reports back how much trash was picked up, and Navarro said it averages 35 to 50 bags of trash every other month.

Navarro said the hotel spends about $300 a month for the professional company, and that's in line with other types of advertising they do. He thinks it's positive for the Marriott, and very positive for the community and its image.

"The advantage to this is somebody's contributing to it," Navarro said. "Somebody's sponsoring it."