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Trash Patrol : Family Picks Up After Ventura Freeway Drivers


What does Eldon Dickinson, a 53-year-old dentist from Camarillo, have in common with show-biz star Bette Midler?


They cringe at the sight of it along the highway. So they each have taken on the job of keeping two-mile segments of the Ventura Freeway free of litter.

Midler made headlines earlier this month as the latest recruit to Caltrans' "Adopt-A-Highway" program, but Dickinson and his family have been cleaning up after motorists for a year.

Dickinson laid claim to a stretch of the freeway from Las Posas Road to about Central Avenue and enlisted the help of his wife, Darlene, son Chip, daughter Tami Mitchell, and their spouses.

"We rally out there as often as is needed," Dickinson said. "Two weeks ago it was really messy, so I called the family together." In a matter of two or three hours, they had collected 10 sacks of trash.

Since its program began statewide in 1989, Caltrans has issued more than 700 cleanup permits--57 in Ventura County. Of those, only three in the county went to individuals or families. Usually a civic group, church, or business takes on the job.

Dickinson has always had a thing about litter. He and his wife would comb their neighborhood for junk during their morning walks. When he heard about the Caltrans program, he not only signed up his family for a stretch of highway, but he also enlisted his church, the Seventh-day Adventists of Camarillo, for another two-mile section.

It's a two-year hitch for those who adopt a piece of the highway. They must agree to clean the shoulder at least four times a year. Dickinson goes way beyond that.

He keeps his state-issued hard hat, orange vest and orange plastic bag in his pickup truck.

"When I see a mess, I stop, put on the blinkers, grab my vest and get it," Dickinson said. He uses a picker that will grip bits of trash as small as a cigarette butt.

After a year of collecting highway trash, he knows what to expect.

"Fast food really contributes to the mess," he said. "That's a good share of it."

He is used to the ribbing about the orange vests that some motorists might confuse with the garb that County Jail inmates wear when they clean up the litter.

"I bet they think we're a bunch of jailbirds."

Many motorists wave and honk when they see the family rounding up trash.

"It gives you a sense of well-being," he said. "Some might think it's weird to pick up litter, but I'm going to keep doing it as long as I'm physically able."

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