Chad Pregracke worked on the Mississippi river during his summer breaks from high school and college primarily as a commercial shell diver for the cultured pearl industry, but also as a commercial fisherman and barge hand. Typically working miles away from home, he camped on the islands and shorelines of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to save money and fuel. It was during this time that Chad began to realize how neglected the rivers were, with the unsightly and toxic accumulation of trash along their banks. At the age of 17, he started making calls to government agencies to notify them of the problem, assuming someone would take care of it. Year after year passed by and the problem only worsened. In 1997 Chad decided that, if no one else was going to clean up the river, he would; one river, one piece of garbage at a time.
In 1998 at age 23 Chad founded Living Lands and Waters, a non-profit environmental and educational organization, http://www.livinglandsandwaters.org/ and received his first grant to clean the riverbanks of the Mississippi of trash and debris from Alcoa Davenport. He started small with the grant from Alcoa in 1997, but his enthusiasm caught on quickly.
Today, the organization has grown to include 10 full-time employees and a fleet of 4 barges, a towboat, 6 workboats, 2 skid steers, 5 work trucks and a large box truck. With this equipment, the crew is able to travel and work in an average of 9 states a year along the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and Potomac Rivers, as well as many of their tributaries. Since the project’s inception, Chad, his crew, and over 60,000 volunteers have collected over 6 million pounds of debris from our nation’s greatest rivers. Chad has thousands of followers who volunteer to clean alongside Chad and his crew in their own communities. Most recently, Chad expanded the mission of the organization to include Big River Educational Outreach, The MillionTrees Project, and the Adopt-a-River Mile programs.
He’s a Jefferson award winner for volunteerism and has even been featured on Discovery Channel with his own television show. Alcoa Davenport has been there with Chad every step of the way with foundation grants, Action grants and/or volunteer support.