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.

(12) comments


Congratulations Chad! Now if Chad's parents could bottle their formula for producing such a great kid we'd all be better off! To his parents I say great job. Donating $10M to each of the other groups in the running is a class act! You make our whole area proud Chad!

credit island

Ironic that this organization is headquartered where the Mississippi River is total trash, the water is bad, the fish are not good to eat, the shoreline is totally littered. Look at the causeway leading to Credit Island, in violation of any regulation that was ever enacted. Chad has done some good work but the hero award should be going to behavior change.


Wait...when did he get married???

YAY Chad !! I told you;)

I suppose it began to come together more in 1998, however I would like to give Chad credit for that first year of his hard work....that's where it all started...In 1997 Chad Initiated the 'Mississippi River Beautification & Restoration Project'. He single-handedly cleaned over 100 miles of shoreline in the Quad City area; An estimated 45,000 lbs. of trash was removed ! In 1998 is when he enlisted additional boats & crew to assist the project.... Thank you Chad for not giving up that first year !!


Way to go! We are all proud of you.


Nice honor for Pregracke. But Quad Cities residents have to be honest with themselves...pulling out trash is not going to save the Mississippi River. The only way to save the Mississippi River is to address the locks/dams/levees and put conservation practices on our farm fields. Anything else is a distraction from what truly needs to be done.


It's not going to hurt it either JustJoe ! Sure glad Chad didn't have that you even know what he has been pulling from that river? It would shock you...


Unless he's pulling farm nutrients and sediment from that river, it really doesn't matter. Tires and washing machines are the least of the Mississippi River's problems.


He's pulling a lot more than that ! ....Sorry but Tires did seem to be one of the main fact..statistics the first 4 years...from 1997 to 2001...he pulled 4952 tires from the river ! If it wasn't for Chad, you wouldn't even have a river we could use ! Here's some other odd things...A top of a school bus...2 Farm Tractors....keep in mind, this is all from the first four years...5 Motorcycles...a 1970 Ford Econoline Van...27 bicycles...28 toilets...348 Antifreeze Bottles...Enough Styrofoam to fill 2 Football Fields 1 foot thick....72 water heaters.....350 Propane Tanks..287 Refrigerators...128 Herbicide/Pesticide Containers....46 washing Machines...11 Bathtubs.....

Okay..I'll quit...the list goes on and on...lots lots more....

Lou Ford
Lou Ford

Hey conservatives - this is what a tree-hugging environmentalist looks like. Go ahead and debate him about the big bad EPA.


This young man's achievement is extraordinary beyond what anyone could have imagined for him. It is not often that one gets a chance to celebrate the recognition of someone they know or at least know of locally. Davenport was not wise enough to name their new park after this local hero who is now a national hero. One of the towns on the Illinois side needs to awaken and not miss the opportunity to name something after Chad.




Nice work Chad!!!!!

I'm surprised also there was some really stiff competition for this prize .... I think the edge Chad and LL&W has is his work affects so many people across so many states and projects that will span Generations like the mast tree initiative that Congress dropped the ball on a decade ago when they started shortchanging the Corps budget because of the War based on Lies in Iraq ....

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