Kellie Fulton hates litter. With a passion.
The 55-year-old Webster resident hates trash so much, she spent more than three hours picking it up on Sunday. She donned an orange vest and dragged a plastic bin behind her as she picked up garbage alongside the on- and off-ramps for the Phillips Road exit off Route 104.
"I hate the garbage," Fulton said. "If I don’t do it, no one else will. So it’s the least I can do."
It's not the first time she's spent her free time cleaning up after others. For the last three years, every six months or so, Fulton would head over to the Phillips Road exit and walk along the ramps to pick up trash.
Unfortunately, Fulton said, her car is too small and she can't fit the garbage inside it. She also struggles to lift the bags, which get to be considerably heavy by the time she's finished filling them.
She said she purposely leaves the bags on a grassy median between the on-ramp and the bridge where 104 passes over Phillips Road so that they're visible to anyone who drives by them.
In the past, she said she's called the town of Webster to pick up the bags, but it has refused to come get them. The town has told her that 104 is maintained by the New York state Department of Transportation, and it can't pick up the trash she's collected for that reason.
"The fact that I took the time to go and clean up — why isn’t the town willing to go pick it up?" Fulton said. "Why would you leave it there for five six months when it’s a bag of garbage?"
Before this past weekend, the last time she picked up garbage on the ramps was on July 7. The bags of trash sat at the corner for several months and vanished only a couple of weeks ago, she said.
Even when crews came to mow the grass by the on-ramp, they left the bags where they were and mowed around them, Fulton said. She pointed out brown patches of dead grass where the bags sat for several months.
"The guys would mow around it, and I'm like, 'Are you stinkin' serious?'" Fulton said. "It just drives me nuts."
Jordan Guerrein, public information officer for the NYSDOT, said that Route 104 is maintained by the state. In a statement, he said that maintenance crews are tasked with a variety of duties, and they have to find the time to pick up litter while also keeping roads safe.
"Throughout the year, department staff, Adopt-A-Highway volunteers and NYSDOT contractors pick up litter along our interstates," Guerrein said. "However, they can’t do it alone. It’s up to the traveling public to take pride in the community and not litter. The more time our maintenance forces spend picking up litter, the less time they can dedicate to safety enhancements along the highway such as plowing snow, clearing debris and repairing guiderails."
Joseph Herbst, Webster's superintendent of highways, said the ramps and the grass around them fall into the state's right-of-way. Herbst said Webster would have to get a permit to do any sort of work there, including garbage removal.
"Technically, it is the state's jurisdiction," Herbst said. "Technically and legally, they own it."
If the bags had been left right beside the curb and farther away from 104, the town might be able to "plead ignorance" and pick them up without stepping on the state's toes, Herbst said.
There's a lot of trash just thrown on the side of roadways, Herbst said, so it's impossible to know if garbage was left as litter or, in Fulton's case, collected and cleaned up from the nearby area. The town can't be expected to pick up every bag of garbage someone leaves on the side of the road, he said.
"There are so many bags of garbage that we drive by on a regular basis that we have no idea how they got there," Herbst said. "How it got there is the bigger question."
Though he commended Fulton for trying to make her community a better place, he said that picking up trash along the highway is something she should have had been registered to do through an Adopt A Highway program.
"She's out getting exercise and doing the right thing," Herbst said. "But if you're doing it without anybody's knowledge or consent, eventually it's going to come back and bite you in the can."
Despite her frustration with both the town and the DOT, Sunday's warm, sunny weather encouraged Fulton to get out and pick up more trash again. When she finished, she posted a photo of the bags to a Facebook group for people living in Webster and asked for some help getting them picked up.
On Monday afternoon, Michael Syracusa pulled up next to Fulton's bags and hopped out of his truck. He said he saw Fulton's post and wanted to help, and he thanked her for doing all the work.
"I own a shop right up the street so I figured I'd grab it and throw it in my dumpster," Syracusa said. "I saw you doing it yesterday and I said, 'Aw, I've got to go help her.'"
As Fulton watched Syracusa toss the bags into the back of his pickup truck and drive away, a huge smile spread across her face. Overjoyed, she pumped her fists in the air.
"Awesome!" Fulton said. "We did it, Webster. We did it!"