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Someone Is Adopting Roads in the Name of President Trump—in a Deep Blue Suburb

A sign on Burke Lake Road. Photographs by Andrew Beaujon.

The intersection of Burke Lake Road and Rolling Road in Fairfax is a long way from MAGA country. It’s in the districts of Democratic politician Eileen Filler-Corn, the speaker-designate of the Virginia House of Delegates, and Democratic state Senator Dave Marsden, who won his most recent election with 64 percent of the vote. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, almost 61 percent of its precinct’s voters went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Tim Kaine did even better there with his reelection run last year: 69.7 percent for him compared with 29.7 percent for Donald Trump acolyte Corey Stewart.

Which is why the sign that announces the street is currently being kept tidy by the “President Trump Fan Club” is a bit of a surprise on the stretch of Burke Lake Road between Kings Park Library and Lake Braddock Secondary School. Washingtonian filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Virginia Department of Transportation to learn who was behind these particular Adopt-a-Highway signs, which led to a phone call with Nick Umbs, a federal worker and fan of the President who grew up in Burke, went to college in Florida, spent some time in Colorado, and now spends some of his weekends cleaning up area roads.

Umbs’ first adopted road is just off Burke Lake Road and bears his real name as well as the name of a friend, but he enjoyed the volunteer work so much he decided to adopt more highways. In all, he’s got two-and-a-half miles of roads to clean in the name of President Trump, both in Burke and on Ox Road in Lorton, right near the former Lorton Reformatory.

“With everything going on,” Umbs says, “I thought it’d be pretty neat to do something to support the President.” He and his girlfriend currently comprise the entirety of the President Trump Fan Club, insofar as Burke-area road cleanups are concerned. “It’s a pretty liberal area,” Umbs acknowledges, but he says he chose the name on the signs last summer “just to kind of show that there are people who support the President that are trying to do good for the community.”

VDOT doesn’t have any rules that prohibit political highway adopters, says Jennifer S. McCord, a spokesperson for the agency in Northern Virginia. Indeed, a tour through the agency’s map of adopted highways shows names like the Democratic Women of Clifton among road cleaners like the NOVA Disc Golf Association and the Ohio State Alumni of Washington DC. Anyone who adopted a highway to advertise their business (or simply to troll their neighbors) would face the reality of needing to actually get out there and scour the road they’d signed up for, says VDOT’s Lauren Mollerup, who oversees the Adopt-a-Highway program in Northern Virginia: “I do think some people think, ‘Oh, we’re going to get free advertising,’ but they really do have to keep it up if they want to keep the sign.”

Volunteers are required to clean their adopted roads at least twice a year, a bar Umbs says he’s had no problems clearing, especially now that the weather is cool. He says people honk and give him thumbs up when they see him out freshening local arteries, no matter what political differences they may have. The weirdest things he’s found include bottles of urine—presumably from drivers in great hurries—and once a student ID and credit card with the same name on them as well as a bone nearby.

“I said, ‘I hope all three of these things aren’t connected,'” Umbs says. He phoned the police, who told him the bone belonged to a deer. Just to be safe, he looked the person up on Twitter, found a recent tweet, and thought, “Good, this guy’s still alive”—perhaps the most productive use of that social networking platform in recent history.

Umbs, who stresses he’s not adopting highways in hopes of being invited to the White House, says he thinks the current impeachment inquiry is “kind of ridiculous” and that he expects Trump to be reelected and face a lot more investigations from Democrats. What if Trump doesn’t win a second term, I asked him. Will you keep the name on the signs? “That is a really good question!” he replies. “I guess I would just keep cleaning it up. I think the permits are good for three years. I don’t think my support’s going to change.”

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.