Monday, April 5th, 2010
By Shelley Grieshop
Scouting for litter
Boy Scout Troop 69 honored for 20 years in highway program
  CELINA - They may not pick up after themselves at home, but those in Boy Scout Troop 69 have no problem cleaning up after others.
The Celina-based troop was recently recognized for 20 consecutive years of gathering fast-food wrappers, glass bottles and an occasional surprise along a two-mile stretch of state Route 29, west of Celina.
"It's a good community service project," said Mike Hoying, the troop's former Scoutmaster and current committee member.
The Scouts joined Ohio's Adopt-A-Highway program in 1990 and - after proper safety training - agreed to pick up debris several times each year along their span of the highway. It hasn't always been a walk in the park, Hoying said.
"It's been tough sometimes. If we get a bad rainstorm before (clean-up day), we have to walk through water in the ditch. Everything's wet," he said. "The worst is in the spring after the snow melts."
Besides the usual paper products and aluminum cans, the kids have found undergarments and other unmentionable items. Hoying once found a leather jacket that he envisioned fell from a speeding motorcycle on a sunny day.
Cody Fennig, 17, said he and other Scouts often go home with something unique. His favorite was a funeral flag he spotted lying in the ditch. Such "treasures" are thrilling, although his Mom and Dad don't usually share the enthusiasm, he said.
"The parents sure aren't happy about it, but the Scouts like it," the junior at Celina High School said.
Fennig said he feels good about the work, which enables him to give something back to the community.
One of Hoying's goals for initiating such a project was to teach the boys how to work together. The program also helps Scouts move up in rank. Each Scout needs two hours of community service work to qualify for advancement, he explained.
Clean-up dates are scheduled about four times a year and often prior to big community events such as the Celina Lake Festival or the county fair "so the area looks good to people coming in," Hoying said. Typically, about a dozen Scouts from the 30-member troop show up to scour the ditches, he added.
The oldest members of the troop - Bryan Combs, Cody Fennig, Avery Moeller and Brady Bertke - have been picking up litter for six years.
The Adopt-A-Highway project is sponsored through the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). There are 17 groups in Mercer County and seven in Auglaize County. Participants must be at least 12 years old and the state requires the supervision of one adult for every four children younger than 18.
Participants also must wear safety vests and undergo annual safety refresher courses.
Joyce Renner, coordinator of the program for ODOT, said the organizations that perform "litter patrol" lighten the expense otherwise picked up by taxpayers.
"Last year, ODOT spent approximately $4 million and used 187,951 labor hours picking up 342,552 bags of litter from highways and interchanges," she said. "The cost and time involved to remove litter from the highways could have been used for other needs."
Litter can harm wildlife, spread disease, cause fires, clog storm drains, leach toxic chemicals into waterways, discourage economic development and reduce property values, Renner said.
"Litter begets litter. People are more likely to litter in areas where there is already litter on the ground," she said.
Renner said Troop 69 "shows true diligence as environmental stewards."

Coldwater Squires first Adopt-A-Highway group:
The first Adopt-A-Highway group in Ohio was the Columbian Squires of Coldwater. The local organization started the program Aug. 1, 1989, and still maintains the two miles of highway along state Route 219, east of the Coldwater corporation limit.
Janet Gels of Coldwater said she was asked to suggest an organization to kick-off the state's Adopt-A-Highway pilot program while she was director of the county's litter prevention and recycling program. It was an easy pick, she said. Her husband, Ralph Gels, was - and still is - the Squires leader, and their son, Scott, was Chief Squire.
Gels said the Squires perform clean-up duty about four times a year or more "depending on how messy it is." They've found plenty of odd items such as bowling balls; the Gels now have a collection in their backyard, she said with a laugh.
"We had so many, we made them into lady bugs. Now we have a lady bug collection," she said.
One of the Squires recently found a stolen wallet discarded in the ditch. They promptly returned it to its owner in Montezuma, who had undergone surgery and given the wallet to a family member to buy groceries. The wallet apparently was stolen from a shopping cart.
Although about $80 was missing and the wallet was a muddy mess, the man was thrilled to have his Social Security, Medicare and other important cards back, Gels said.
- Shelley Grieshop
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