Online Staff Report
Living Lands & Waters founder Chad Pregracke, 38, an East Moline, Ill., resident and Rock River Trail Initiative council member, has been chosen as the “CNN Hero of the Year.”
Pregracke topped a list of 10 CNN Heroes — “everyday people doing extraordinary things to help change the world” — following a five-week public polling period on CNN.com.
Through Living Lands & Waters, Pregracke has organized community cleanups throughout the country. In the past 15 years, about 70,000 volunteers have helped Pregracke collect more than 7 million pounds of trash. He spends nine months out of the year on a barge with a 12-member crew traveling around the country with a fleet of boats. They have held more than 700 cleanups on 23 rivers. About 90 percent of the debris recovered is recycled.
In addition to the river cleanups, Pregracke also began a floating classroom barge to educate high school students and teachers about the damages of pollution on river ecosystems. His nonprofit also launched an effort in 2007 to plant 1 million trees along river shorelines, and the group is halfway to its goal. The group has donated thousands of trees to the Rock River Trail Initiative as part of this effort.
After learning of the honor Nov. 19, Pregracke told CNN, “I’ll just keep on cleaning up America’s rivers and loving every minute of it.”
Pregracke also pledged to donate a portion of his $250,000 prize money to the other nine individuals on CNN’s top 10 list. Pregracke’s $250,000 prize is in addition to the $50,000 given to each “Hero” making the top 10.
As a teen-ager, Pregracke began working as a commercial shell diver. He said it was then that he noticed the large amount of debris in the Mississippi River, which supplies drinking water to 18 million people in more than 50 U.S. cities.
“I saw thousands of barrels, thousands of tires, cars, trucks and tops of school buses. …” Pregracke told CNN. “I got sick of seeing it and just wanted to do something about it.”
For his efforts, Pregracke has earned the nickname “the rivers’ garbage man.”
Posted Nov. 21, 2013