Littering on roadways is illegal and punishable by fines of up to $1,000 on the first offense, but the highways of Kansas still gather debris.

Several groups volunteer their time to clean up roads as part of the Kansas Department of Transportation's Adopt-A-Highway program.

"We have a lot of available areas that can be adopted," said Melissa Richard, KDOT Permit Coordinator.

Sections of highway in cities and in rural areas are available for adoption.

"We're always looking for new groups to join," said KDOT Information Specialist Kim Stich.

Having litter laying by the side of the road can pollute the land, waterways and can be harmful to people and animals.

"A clean environment is helpful," Stich said. "It's better for the community; it's better visually — it's a good thing to have."

Having volunteers pick up litter lets KDOT personnel focus their efforts elsewhere.

"(Adopt-A-Highway) helps the KDOT field employees to spend more time maintaining the roads," Stich said.

Groups who adopt a stretch of highway are asked to clean it up at least three times a year with a minimum commitment of two years. Those who want to adopt a more rural stretch can request a three-mile section, while those looking to clean up a more urban section may ask for a one-mile assignment.

"This would be a good way to get some community service hours," Richard said.

KDOT works with the applying group to select a section of highway to be adopted. Not all highway sections are available for adoption for safety or other considerations. If a certain area is already being cleaned, groups can ask to be put on a waiting list and be notified when it becomes available.

"People like to get involved to help their community," Stich said.

Businesses, nonprofits, churches, schools, neighborhoods and other organizations can take part in Adopt-A-Highway. When a group adopts a highway, KDOT provides and places a sign with their name on the assigned section.

Groups advocating for a particular political candidate or party may not participate in the program. Those working to clean up the highways are not allowed to display any kind of message or advertisement.

Safety is a priority when gathering trash from the highways, and volunteers are asked to conduct themselves in a manner that does not distract drivers or disrupt traffic.

There is no fee to apply or participate in the Adopt-A-Highway program. In fact, when they decide on a day to go out and pick up litter, a group calls the KDOT office in advance so they can be provided with supplies and safety vests.

"We take care of providing the trash bags and training," Stich said.

The trash that is collected can be separated from recyclable materials, bagged up and left by the side of the road for KDOT personnel to pick up and dispose of.

When going to clean the highway, a group should have a minimum of five members. Members can be as young as 11 years old, but must have adequate adult supervision.

On average, it takes a group between two and three hours to pick up the litter on their assigned section.

Occasionally, volunteers find more than trash.

"In years past, I've heard of groups finding a wallet," Stich said. "They actually called the person and got it back to them."

Any hazardous material or roadkill should be left alone, and groups can notify KDOT employees of their presence so they can be disposed of properly.

For more information about the Adopt-A-Highway program or to download an application, visit https://www.ksdot.org/bureaus/burMaint/Adoptahighway.asp or call KDOT at 620-382-3717.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.