When Ann Lee moved to Sierra Vista more than a decade ago, she was taken aback by what she saw.
“It always surprised me how littered Sierra Vista is,” Lee said. “I used to carry plastic bags with me, but it got to the point where I had too much trash.”
To help with the rising intake of trash, Lee decided to join the Adopt-a-Highway volunteer program through Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT). According to the ADOT website, the volunteer program provides two-year permits to clean up roadsides for individuals, families, churches and other groups.
Once a month, the 78-year-old Sierra Vista resident spends a few hours in the morning cleaning a three-mile stretch along State Route 92. Lee said the requirement from ADOT is once a quarter, but she likes to clean her stretch more often because too much trash piles up if she just goes out once every three months.
“I find it relaxing (but) you have to stay alert, “ Lee said. “I find it rewarding, because I have evidence that I’m helping — the bags are full.”
Lee’s coverage areas, which are assigned to her by ADOT, are from mile markers 324 to 326 on State Route 92 as well as mile marker 328 to 329. She said she collects two bags of trash per mile when she goes out each month. ADOT picks up the bags at the location so Lee and other volunteers don’t have to bring it home.
“The wind and those darn plastic bags are just awful,” she said. “I see a lot of styrofoam cups and the lids and those darn straws. Every time one of those goes out the window, it’s three pieces of trash. I don’t see a lot of beer cans, which is an improvement (from when I first started).”
Lee was first introduced to the Adopt-a-Highway program when she lived in Denver. While in Colorado, she had her own house-cleaning business, but in 2002 Lee decided to retire to Sierra Vista. She has been a volunteer with Adopt-a-Highway for roughly 15 years. Her passion for conservation stems from her father, who was a farmer.
“Seeing all that litter is disturbing,” Lee said. “This is my way of paying back.”
When Lee isn’t helping clean up, she is helping members of the community as the president of the Our Lady of the Mountains Church’s St. Vincent de Paul chapter. The group helps members of the community with “emergency assistance” like helping with their utility bills or with food.
“It’s a way of helping others (and) it’s a way of finding a purpose,” Lee said. “We intervene at the beginning to try and help before they fall.”
Although her age prevents her from working as fast as she once could, Lee doesn’t see herself slowing down when it comes to picking up trash, giving back to the community or enjoying her hobbies.
“I like to be active, but then again it slows down so you enjoy what you can,” she said.