It took 92 bags but the on and off ramps to Highway 102 are litter free.

A group of more than 20 volunteers spent two hours on April 29 cleaning the ditches around the ramps as part of the Adopt-a-Highway program offered in Nova Scotia. It allows organizations, service groups and municipalities like the Town of Stewiacke to adopt either a five-kilometre stretch of highway or a 100-series highway interchange.

Town Councillor Mary Commo took the lead after learning about the program through a member of the town’s business and tourism committee.

“I followed up on it, filled out the required paperwork and received the authorization and permit that allowed us to adopt the Stewiacke interchange,” said Commo. “It’s a relatively simple program where twice a year, we bring together a group of volunteers and clean up the area around the interchange. Now that we’ve completed the spring clean up our plan is to be back in the fall.”

Through the program, the Department of Transportation provides volunteers with bags, safety vests and gloves. On this day, James Watson of the DOT picked up all the bags of garbage in his truck.

Local businesses also offered up support. Stewiacke Foodland donated water for volunteers while Tim Hortons provided coffee. When everyone was finished cleaning up garbage, lunch was on KFC.

“The mess on both sides of the highway was a real issue for me,” said Commo. “It’s a busy interchange. People are stopping for gas, coffee and food at all hours of the day. For whatever reason, some of those people choose to throw their garbage out the window instead of putting it in the garbage. It’s really frustrating but I don’t think there’s anything we can do to change it. Everyone knows littering is illegal but that doesn’t stop them. From the town’s standpoint, we felt the time was right for us to step in and try and make a difference.”

Muriel and Stephen Fowler were two of the volunteers who showed up to help. The state of the roadsides was something they always noticed when travelling on the highway.

“It’s disgusting. Just look around,” said Stephen. “If you were to take a picture of this and show it to people, they would all agree there’s just no need of it. People are seeing this coming in and leaving our town and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them don’t return as a result. We have two gas stations and a number of restaurants within seconds. All of them have garbage cans. I just wish people would think twice.”

Muriel agrees. She says it was important for her and Stephen to put their names forward when the call for volunteers was made.

“We’ve commented about the mess before,” she said. “This was our chance to get out and make a difference. You can’t complain if you’re not willing to do something about it and we wanted to do something. Clean roadsides are a much greater way to greet visitors to our town.”

Anna Nibby-Woods was another Stewiacke resident who was upset about the state of the ditches. Last November, she was travelling to her sister’s when a caller phoned in to a talk radio program.

He specifically referenced Stewiacke and the amount of garbage that was piling up as you entered the town.

“There were three callers complaining about trash,” said Nibby-Woods, who was cleaning up garbage on the stretch of road between the Ultramar and Subway. “One caller was particular to Stewiacke and he was livid. He really laid into the town calling it a rotting pile of garbage. I felt it was a little extreme but the man explained he had been here twice to look at property but because of the garbage, he was going to look elsewhere.”

Nibby-Woods, upon returning home, immediately composed an email to town representatives. As a member of the business and tourism committee she felt something had to be done.

Composing the email on a Friday, the following day it was discovered someone had cleaned up all the ramps.

“I called Councillor Susan Creelman to ask if the town was responsible for it but it wasn’t them. No one seemed to know anything about it,” said Nibby-Woods. “After a few days of investigating, we learned it was a man, Remi Roy, of Shubenacadie. He already cleaned the interchange for Shubenacadie but out of the goodness of his heart, he came and cleaned Stewiacke’s as well. I wrote him to thank him personally.”

That prompted Nibby-Woods to approach council and have the garbage issue put on the agenda.

“I was embarrassed and ashamed,” she said. “Then all of a sudden Mr. Roy comes along and everything looks great. I wanted our interchange to always look like that. Thankfully, Mary Commo volunteered to take things on and register us in the Adopt-a-Highway program. I have goose bumps looking around and seeing what this group of volunteers has done. It makes me so proud. Through osmosis, I’m hoping this will work its way through town and everyone will work to keep the ditches and properties clean of litter.”

Dennis Park was also a focus during the clean-up. Those cleaning up around the highway had to be 18 years old so families who turned up to help went to Dennis Park where they left their mark.

“It was an extra boost for us,” said Commo. “As a town, Dennis Park and some other areas in town were a priority for us. As long as I’m on council, I’m committed to ensuring this is something we continue to do with a town. My hope is word spreads and in the fall, we see even more people volunteering to help out.”