The Quad-Cities' beloved river rat, Chad Pregracke, is a co-icon to his own creations.
The 39-year-old's name is synonymous with Living Lands & Waters and Xstream Cleanups — both offspring of his high-energy river-cleaning efforts. Living Lands is the organization Pregracke founded in 1998. Based in East Moline, the nonprofit employs 12 full-time staffers, including a barge crew that travels up to nine months each year, hosting cleanups, workshops, tree plantings and other conservation initiatives.
Billed as the only "industrial strength" river cleanup organization like it in the world, Living Lands & Waters makes up for in volunteers what it lacks in full-time staff. In just four years of hosting the Great Mississippi River Cleanup, 7,056 volunteers have hauled more than 400,000 pounds of junk out of the river.
Last year, he was named CNN Hero of the Year, and the title carried with it a $250,000 prize. But Pregracke gave away $90,000 of it — $10,000 each to the other nine Hero nominees. In a recent twist on the story, Living Lands & Waters sponsor Anheuser-Busch replaced the gift in June, handing over a check for $90,000.
Asked what his greatest accomplishment has been over 16 years as the rivers' garbageman: "It’s a lot of small accomplishments, but probably the biggest is hearing thousands of people tell us what a difference they have seen because of the work we do."