March 9 marks the first time an Adopt-A-Highway sign went up on an American highway. It seems like it’s been around a lot longer, but it was on this day in 1985 that groups, individuals and companies were able to sponsor sections of highway, paying for maintenance and cleanup, or in some cases, doing it themselves. There are some surprising facts about the program you probably didn’t know:
The First Highway Was Adopted in Texas
In 1985, the Tyler Civitan Club in Tyler, Texas was the first group to plant a sign alongside a highway, taking responsibility for a two-mile stretch of U.S. Route 69, just north of Loop 323 between Tyler and Interstate 20.
The KKK Adopted a Highway in Missouri
In 1994, the Missouri organization of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, filed an application for the Adopt-A-Highway program. Most offensively, the white supremacist organization requested a half-mile stretch of Interstate 55, one of the routes used to bus black students to county schools as part of court-ordered desegregation efforts in the St. Louis area.
Missouri shredded the request, alleging that the group’s sponsorship violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The Klan challenged the state’s denial in court and won, alleging that the state violated the group’s constitutional rights. Missouri was forced to designate a mile-long stretch to the Klan in late 1999 while the state appealed.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Missouri’s appeal.
Fortunately for Missourians, Klansmen appear to be lazier than they are fervent. In many states, when you Adopt-A-Highway, you’re actually responsible for picking up the trash. Beyond just planting a sign, an organization has to collect trash bags, reflective vests and view a 10-minute safety training video to participate in the program.
In January of 2000, a Klan representative just barely met the deadline for picking up those materials. By March, the organization had done none of the actual cleanup work, so the state sent the Klan an ultimatum to begin trash removal or be dropped from the program.
Missouri made good on the threat on the historically charged day of April 4, 2000 — the 33rd anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.
I Find Your Lack of Rubbish Pickup Disturbing
Not only did Darth Vader sponsor this section of highway in Virginia, he also donned an orange, reflective vest, dumped his light saber in favor of a grabber and cleaned up his sector.
Cosmo Kramer Adopted A Highway in Alaska
On February 20, 1997, Seinfeld aired its 150th episode, entitled “The Pothole.” One of the stories involved Cosmo Kramer adopting a section of highway after running over an abandoned sewing machine on the fictional Arthur Burkhardt Expressway.
At Mile Marker 114, Kramer cleans, weeds and polishes his section of roadway, going so far as deleting the middle section of dotted lines, allowing for luxurious, wide lanes for his visitors:
In the real world, “Kosmo” Kramer has adopted his own section of highway. On a trip to Anchorage from Fairbanks, Alaska, travelers noticed this Adopt-A-Highway sign along the route:
Alaska is Wilder Than We Thought
Apparently, Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners is a real organization in Cooper Landing, Alaska. The group receives money from the Kenai Peninsula Borough for its efforts to clean up dumps on the peninsula. The money goes to Cooper Landing Senior Citizen Corp., which is trying to raise enough money to buy land and build independent housing for seniors. The Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners adopted four miles (41-44) of the Sterling Highway to clean spring and fall, since 2004.
The Suicide Commandos Adopted a Highway in Minnesota
You may never have heard of the Suicide Commandos, but they were an act that came out of the bristling punk rock scene in the Twin Cities in Minnesota that produced bands like The Replacements the Suburbs, and Hüsker Dü. Their song “Complicated Fun” was part of a short-lived Target ad campaign:
On July 29, 2015 a new Hennepin County highway sign revealed that “The Suicide Commandos Punk Rock Band” had adopted a 1.5 mile stretch of Hennepin County Road 16 or McGinty Road in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
Truckin’ (But Don’t Be Litterin’)
There’s a stretch of Highway 8 near Yuma, Arizona that’s dedicated to the memory of Jerry Garcia. That’s a fitting antidote to the Klan’s highway.
There’s an actual business in Dorchester, Massachusetts called “Absolute Karma Men’s Waxing.” It is exactly what it sounds like: A place where dudes go to have their bikini areas waxed.
The shop’s owner decided to adopt a section of highway in Massachusetts.
After Your Waxing, Visit Blush!
A “gentlemen’s club” called “Blush” created a local stir in 2012 after it sponsored a sections of Parkways East and West in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“It does something good and promotes our name at the same time which doesn’t hurt either,” club owner Albert Bortz told KDKA-TV, adding: “I haven’t heard one bad comment about it.”
An angry resident wrote competing station WPXI-TV, though, complaining that the sign was “just bad publicity for Pittsburgh and the region.”