Brainerd woman has been keeping County Highway 3 clean for 8 years

Raya Vincent has cared for a 5-mile stretch of the highway by herself.

Woman picking up trash on roadway.
Raya Vincent walks the 5-mile stretch of Highway 3 Monday, May 15, 2023, between the Mill Avenue Bridge in Brainerd and the Speedway Convenience Store in Merrifield picking up trash. Vincent, who has cleaned up trash on the route for eight years, is a familiar and welcome site for motorists who regularly use the road. She has been given plaques, money, flowers, and several gift cards for her volunteer work.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Anyone who has travels on Crow Wing County Highway 3 from Brainerd to Merrifield probably is familiar with Raya Vincent, even if they don't know her name.

For the past eight years, Vincent has walked the road from the Mill Avenue bridge in Brainerd to the Speedway Convenience store in Merrifield, picking up trash in the ditches during every season except winter.

The 5-mile stretch is usually busy with cars and trucks, with some sounding their horns in appreciation for the work Vincent is doing and others going as far as stopping to tell her thanks personally.

"Many times I will return to my car to find gift cards for the Woods, Caribou Coffee and some times flowers," Vincent said. "People will stop to give me money and express their appreciation. ... The Merrifield Lions Club came out to the road one day and presented me with a plaque."

Why is Vincent so dedicated to picking up the trash along this stretch of county highway?


"I like to walk, I kept finding all this trash and thought, 'Why don't I start collecting the junk?'" she said. So she contacted the Crow Wing County Highway Department, which in turn furnishes her with trash bags, a vest and a promise to pick up the bags which are filled with junk.

She works alone, but she said it's all worthwhile to here the encouragement from passing motorists and the gifts strangers have bestowed upon her to show their appreciation for her work on the highway.

I was raised on a farm in western Minnesota where I participated in 4-H, high school sports, and everything that farm kids do for fun after chores. Graduated from Ridgewater Community College with an AA degree and my first taste of newspapering. I worked a summer on the Ortonville Independent as a reporter and photographer.
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