The Quad-Cities' own river rat, Chad Pregracke — who has devoted his life to cleaning up America’s waterways — has been named the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year.
His selection, which was announced Tuesday night, was based on votes from the public. The program will air on CNN at 7 p.m. Dec. 1.
With his selection, Pregracke receives $250,000 to continue his work. That is in addition to the $50,000 that each of the top 10 nominees receives.
Pregracke, 38, a native of East Moline, is founder of Living Lands & Waters.
"I'm really honored that everybody came together to make this happen," Pregracke said in a telephone interview from New York City. "I definitely thank the hometown people for making this happen."
“We were totally shocked,” said Tammy Becker, Chad's wife and program director for Living Lands & Waters.
“We’re still in disbelief," she added.
“It’s a testament to who Chad is and to the people who want to see him succeed,” Becker said. “It’s all such a dream. The Quad-Cities totally made this happen. It’s because everybody in the Quad-Cities voted for him.”
Becker said that the other finalists “have been doing such amazing work, there was no telling who was going to win. It’s just amazing to me.”
"I spent all day long with the nine other heroes," Pregracke said. "I'll tell you, they are great people.
"There are great people in the world doing wonderful things," he added. "It's a testament to the belief that when you see a problem, you can do something about it."
Pregracke said the money is a big infusion into Living Lands & Waters. It will be used for several different projects.
"We're bringing a nursery to Davenport," he said. There has been a goal to plant 1 million trees. Living Lands & Waters handed out the 500,000th tree this year. Native oak trees are the tree of choice.
In 2007, he said, the organization began collecting and planting acorns with a goal of growing 1 million trees within the next five-10 years. After two to three growing seasons, the trees are harvested and replanted in towns and cities that have joined in conservation efforts.
"We're also starting a new invasive species removal program, and we'll be starting in the Quad-Cities," Pregracke said. "Honeysuckles will be the main focus."
There also are events to fund, he said.
"By the end of this year we'll have held 130 different events," Pregracke said.
But next year is approaching quickly, he added.
Pregracke and his crew spend up to nine months a year living and traveling on a barge in which they collect their garbage. The Living Lands & Waters' crew hosts river cleanups, watershed conservation initiatives, workshops, tree plantings and other key conservation efforts.
In 1998, its first year of operation, Living Lands & Waters collected more than 400,000 pounds of garbage along a 435-mile stretch of the Mississippi River.
For the past 15 years, Pregracke and his Living Lands & Waters crew have organized more than 70,000 volunteers to help remove more than 7 million pounds of trash from rivers across the country.