Ostdick’s 11-year litter cleanup effort reaches end of the road

As Highway 156 traffic increases, a new generation is being called upon to walk the walk and take on the responsibility Ostdick and others like him have carried.

After 11 years of cleaning up local roads through the Adopt-a-Highway program, Jim Ostdick is retiring from his efforts and hoping someone will step up to take over his responsibilities. 

Ostdick, known locally for his books detailing his hiking and bicycling trips around the country, as well as authoring BenitoLink’s Walking San Benito series, had been cleaning up Highway 156 outside of San Juan Bautista, an area sponsored by the San Juan Bautista Pizza Factory.  

“I am turning 70 and I want to preserve my health,” he said. “One issue is the increased traffic on 156—I don’t feel safe crossing the highway. And I have one bad knee, which is a problem when I am going down embankments.”

Ostdick’s work of litter removal goes back 16 years to when he became a teacher at San Benito High School.

“My work on the Adopt-a-Highway program grew out of my involvement in the river bed cleanups in the area around the school,” Ostdick said. “When I first got to the school in 2005, I saw the need to do something about the decades’ worth of illegally dumped trash. We organized a cleanup for Earth Day of one little section on Nash Road—it was horrible.”

Ostdick started the Outdoor Club at the school and, with a group of students, would go out four times a year to clean up other areas near the river, removing 22 tons of refuse between Hospital Road and Highway 156 during the seven years Ostdick taught at the school.

“It’s our responsibility to do something,” Ostdick said. “I think it is a basic trait of human beings, that some people get that the air, water, land, plants and animals are all connected. But others are selfish about it. Myself, I don’t want all that junk in the air that I breathe, in the water I drink, and the food that grows out of the ground. If you can’t get that connection, you’re not thinking.”

After leaving the school, Ostdick looked for a new environmental project to work on closer to his home in San Juan Bautista.

“I am friends with Dennis Cole, who owns the Pizza Factory,” Ostdick said. “So in 2010, I took over his part of the highway, between Lucy Brown Road and Monterey Street. After that, I also adopted, in the name of the Outdoor Club, the highway between Monterey and the 101 junctions, and the highway between that junction and Highway 129, which I adopted under the name ‘Palomino.’”

The variety of litter Ostdick found on a regular basis was amazing to him.

“Some stuff is just wind-blown from trucks,” he said. “I see oil dumped, which someone could have recycled for free. I found a huge pile of diapers, which still drives me crazy.”

With 10 miles of roads to maintain, Ostdick kept up a once-a-month schedule of removing litter until two years ago, when he scaled back to just the Pizza Factory section.

“It became too much,” he said. “But I wanted to keep doing it for a lot of reasons, mostly because I hate litter.” 

“I‘ve known Jim for a long time and was always interested in his travels and his books,” Cole said. “We’ve been participating in the Adopt-a-Highway project for over 18 years, and Jim asked if he could help. He would go out there, do the cleanups and then tell me about all the kinds of trash he picked up each time.”

Now, with Ostdick retiring from the job, Cole is looking for an individual or organization to take it over.

“Just like Jim, I am getting too old to do it myself,” Cole said.  “But it is going to be hard to replace him because he was so methodical. He is a real blessing, and the work he has put into these cleanups shows how much he loves this town and this county.”

Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.