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Volunteer spirit in action

IRONTON — Jim Conwell is a strong believer in volunteer work and bettering the Lawrence County community.

A teller at the WesBanco Bank in Chesapeake by day, Conwell also has litter pick-up down to a science. He better, as a two-mile stretch of State Route 7 depends on him and his co-workers to be there cleaning up the roadway at least four times a year.

Whether it’s small items like pieces of paper, plastic bags and orphan car decals or larger items like cans, bottles and empty fast food bags, litter does not stand a chance when Conwell and his team are ready.

On April 25, Conwell along with eight other bank employees and their families collected more than 50 full bags of litter within their “adopted” two-mile stretch of SR 7 that runs from mile marker 2 to the SR 7 end shield where it connects with U.S. 52.

It took the crew six hours to cover the four miles of total roadway as the group is responsible for both the eastbound and westbound lanes of the highway.

It was the first of hopefully many successful outings for the WesBanco Adopt-a-Highway group that has organized their second litter pick-up on Sept. 26. In February, the Chesapeake banking branch joined the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program which celebrates its 20th year in 2009.

“Things are going very good,” Conwell said when explaining the success of the program so far. “We are representing WesBanco in making the area a cleaner place.”

Conwell and his team are not alone in making roadways throughout Lawrence County and the state more visually appealing.

Currently, nearly 1,500 groups throughout Ohio have agreed to clean two-mile stretches of highway or interchanges a minimum of four times a year for at least two years. Initiated in 1989, Ohio’s Adopt-a-Highway program is an offshoot of the national program that that launched in Texas in 1985.

The state agency provides all the tools volunteers need to make a clean-up day successful — trash bags, vests, assist sticks and instructions that include what to pick up and what not to pick up.

Items that volunteers can pass on picking up include dangerous objects like needles, weapons, glass and supplies used to make drugs. Those items are reported and picked up by trained personnel.

By agreeing to be part of the Adopt-a-Highway program, ODOT posts signs along the “adopted” section of roadway to acknowledge the group’s participation in the program.

Statistics provided by ODOT show each Adopt-a-Highway group saves the state agency nearly $1,000 a year in annual litter pick-up costs.

In 2008, alone, ODOT crews picked up seven million pounds of trash, filling nearly 375,000 bags. The effort cost $3.6 million in labor and equipment.

And the trash will never run out. ODOT claims that as fast as trash is picked up by volunteer groups, people keep throwing it out vehicle windows at the same rate.

Currently, 62 groups participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program in ODOT District 9, which includes Lawrence, Scioto, Adams, Brown, Highland, Jackson, Ross and Pike counties.

Four of those are located in Lawrence County.

Besides WesBanco, Adopt-a-Highway programs are currently active in the county by the Boy Scout Troop #106 that has a two mile stretch of roadway on SR 650; Operation Tidy-Up (SR 7) and the Campbell Chapel Youth Group that has a portion of U.S. 52 near the SR 93 interchange.

Katie Wiget, executive secretary for the highway administrator in District 9, has been assisting in coordinating the Adopt-a-Highway program for six years. She says there are always needs for groups to get involved in the program.

“Any group that is interested can have information mailed to them or can find the information available on our website,” Wiget said. The website for ODOT is www.dot.state.oh.us

Most groups that participate in the program are civic and business groups along with churches and community organizations, Wiget said.

As for Conwell, the bank’s participation in a program like Adopt-A-Highway comes from his college days when his fraternity at the University of Rio Grande did trash pick-up at the Bob Evans’ Festival.

“Everyone here at the bank is ready to make this a success,” Conwell said. “We have people that drive by this stretch of road every single day.