By Joanna Bastian

You can find Zen in the lower valley. It’s true — driving through the “Met-Low”, there are two Adopt-A-Highway signs marked, “Zen.” These signs don’t refer to the gentle swell of ripening fruit upon branches, or the clean spring water rushing from their alpine sources down steep-walled canyons to unite with the Methow River, or the rolling hills bathed in sunshine. “Zen” would be an accurate description of all of the peaceful crevices found in the lower valley.

“Zen” — in this case — is a lower valley resident: a whirlwind of energetic charm, hard-working, tough-as-nails woman. I always learn something new and useful whenever I run into Zen. She’s like a cup of black coffee: strong and invigorating.

Zen Brandon runs a small farm and nursery in the lower valley along Highway 153. For years, she noticed the Adopt-A-Highway sign near her home. She had never seen any volunteers cleaning up the roadside, and did not recognize the name of the business noted on the sign. When she started her nursery and farm store, Zen’s Gardens, she decided her business would be responsible for keeping that section of highway clean, and contacted Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to get started.

Zen started cleaning up her section of highway, but then the Carlton Complex Fires roared through the valley, and putting up a sign alongside the road for Zen’s Gardens sat on the back burner for WSDOT while the agency addressed other pertinent issues. By the time WSDOT was ready to put up a sign, Zen had to put aside the nursery business, but was committed to keeping her section of highway clean. As a result, the signs were shortened to “Zen.”

As she spent time cleaning the highway, Zen noticed that it really only needed to be done twice a year and, for the most part, stayed clean. “You can really tell a difference between an area that hasn’t been cleaned in five years, and one that gets picked up even just once a year,” she said. “You’d be amazed at what you find. Once I found a splitting maul — you’d think someone would notice losing a splitting maul!”

The Adopt-A-Highway program provides volunteer opportunities and offers recognition for businesses, groups, families or the memory of a loved one. WSDOT provides orange vests, safety cones and trash bags. Volunteers tidy up 2 miles of highway at least twice a year, and file activity reports with WSDOT. The activity reports are simple and allow WSDOT to maintain insurance coverage for volunteers, while keeping track of how often a section of highway is cleaned. The activity report also notifies WSDOT when and where to pick up full bags of litter.

To participate, contact the Okanogan County coordinator, Shellee Ludeman, by phone at (509) 667-2800, or by email at More information about the program can be found at

The website offers information and safety tips for volunteers. For drivers, please be mindful of volunteers alongside the road working to keep our valley beautiful. Slow down, and give them safe space.


Email Joanna