You really know that it’s spring in Michigan not from the blooming of the daffodils, the greening of lawns, or the presence of robins in gardens. You know it is officially spring in Michigan with the sudden appearance of the ubiquitous orange cones, road construction cones, that appear along the highways and byways of the state when the snow stops flying.

Sure enough this year there appears to be a healthy spring crop in the state. All along US-23 the orange cones seem to have cropped up overnight like morel mushrooms that are so sought after by spring hunters. Unlike the iconic morel mushroom, however, I fear that the cones will not disappear overnight like those tasty forest morsels.

Driving south from Oscoda the cones line US-23 well through Baldwin Township and into East Tawas. Further south they are absent (but for how long?) until you get to the stretch of Interstate 75/US-23 between Standish and Saginaw.

There appears to be a bumper crop of cones in that area, and to be honest, there is not a time where I don’t remember road construction taking place in that particular spot of Michigan highway. Things have changed over the decades since I first did a semester of school at Saginaw Valley State University and drove the stretch almost every weekend. 

There are new presidents, the state laws have changed, I’ve lost a lot of hair. My car went from a rusty Chevy with a tape deck to a newer Ford with XM Radio and other gadgets. 

In the time that I first went to college there Pluto was declassified as a planet and is now just a huge rock, heck, the speed limit on the very stretch of highway I am talking about has changed, but one thing has stayed the same; there has been constant construction on that part of the highway. But this column is not to complain about Michigan road construction, as there is a whole season to do that, it’s about seeing some welcome sights along the roadways.

There has been another constant on my trips around Michigan’s highways during the spring, something that I actually like to see, and that is the occasional pile of green and white plastic Michigan Adopt-A-Highway trash collections bags.

The bags are filled with trash that is collected by groups and organizations who “adopt” a stretch of Michigan highway to keep clean. The program, which was designed by the Michigan Department of Transportation, was created to help keep the state’s roadsides clean and attractive. In my travels throughout the country I’ve never seen cleaner highways than Michigan’s, regardless of their condition.

“Participants adopt both sides of a section of state highway roadside to clean up for at least a two-year period. A minimum two-mile stretch of roadway is recommended. All types of state highways may be adopted, including two-lane roads, limited access highways, boulevards and business routes,” according to literature on the program’s website. “Since 1990, Adopt-A-Highway local groups have collected over a million bags of trash. Currently 2,800 groups are participating in the program and have adopted over 6,400 miles of Michigan highways.”

A million bags of trash over the decades is something to be proud about I would say, and it’s something to be proud of for the groups that take the time to assemble the members to go do the collections. Driving around Michigan you can see the various civic groups’ highway sections designated to them, whether it is the local scout troop or the Lions Club.

According to MDOT the program requires a group of at least three people, and can be all kinds of organizations, “including scout troops, church groups, activity and teen groups, small and large businesses, clubs, service organizations and senior citizen groups.”

I think that it’s great that groups are willing to take the time and volunteer to clean up trash that may be along the highways, and the bags are a welcome sight when driving around in the spring. It means that volunteers are willing to take their personal time to make Michigan’s roadways look good.

One thing that I have noticed locally, however, is there have been fewer bags along the highways, which must mean that there is less trash along the roadways.

I do not think that the volunteers are slacking, however, and maybe this is a sign that fewer people are deciding to toss their trash and garbage outside of their vehicles and along the highways. It’s a nice though to have, and maybe it’s true, but all the same it would be nice if we didn’t have to have Adopt-A-Highway volunteers doing their work at all because no one is deciding to litter.

So this spring if you’re driving around, and happen to see one of the volunteers cleaning up the roadways, making them look nice, give them a honk and a wave, because they’re doing what most of us probably would not want to do.