CNN Hero of the Year Discusses Environmental Work


By: Eric Schroeder

On March 12, the SGA Programs Board continued their lecture series by bringing in Chad Pregracke held in Daugherty-Palmer Commons. While being an ardent environmentalist, Pregracke is the recipient of the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year award and the founder of Living Lands & Waters. The lecture was a chronological account of the work that he has been doing up and down our nation’s rivers with others like him since he was 17. Pregracke’s lecture also touched on the impact that dirty rivers have on the people who live near them.

Chad Pregracke’s one goal is to clear the rivers of the United States from trash. His work started on the Mississippi where he grew up. When he was young, Pregracke would work in the river as a commercial shell diver. Through his work, Pregracke realized the vast amounts of trash that has clogged the Mississippi river. Pregracke commented, before starting his presentation, that in the last eight days, his organization has pulled enough garbage to fill DPC about two to three times.

Before giving more information about his work, he shared information about the Mississippi and its importance. The Mississippi spans 28,000 miles which intersect with 7 national parks. The Mississippi is also used as a flyway for 40% of all birds and as a superhighway for transportation with 64% of all food exported from the United States flowing through New Orleans. More importantly, 18 million people get their drinking water from the Mississippi river. When Pregracke found that this river was filled with trash, he knew that there was something that needed to be done.

Starting at 17, Pregracke began his fight against the trash in the river. His first step was to try and find who put all this trash in the river. He contacted local governments but received little help. His next step was to find funding for his effort to clean the river. This evolved into a 4 year process of trying to find a sponsor that would allow him to clear a 438 mile stretch of the river which covered 1000 miles of shoreline. When he got his first sponsor, his work began to draw the attention of media outlets.

Pregracke was dedicated to his cause, by going to community college for three days a week and then spending the rest his time clearing the river. It took nine and a half months of straight work for Pregracke to reach the St. Louis area. Reaching this goal led him to set his sights on the Illinois River which is near 273 miles in length. This trek up the Illinois River was where Pregracke faced his hardest period of time near the Chicago area. He then realized that he needed to work at this in a better way, he needed a barge.

The incorporation of a barge allowed him to spend all of his time in the water rather than spending days disposing of the garbage. Pregracke is a believer in the idea of if you create the opportunity, people will come. This happened in droves as volunteers came to help Pregracke and his movement to help achieve his vision of clean rivers.

Pregracke also provides educational opportunities for teachers and students to become more aware of the environment. Along with the educational opportunities, Living Lands & Waters offers an alternative spring break program for college students wherein each student will pull 12,000 pounds of trash from rivers in the United States.

This was not Pregracke’s first visit to St. Mary’s or the Maryland area. Pregracke visited St. Mary’s twelve years ago and still likes The Point as much as his first time here. Pregracke also worked on the Anacostia and Potomac rivers for three years, but did not do any work in the Baltimore area as he and his team almost caught hypothermia when scoping out the area.

The biggest thing that Pregracke learned throughout his life was that, “Finding out what you want to do is pretty hard.” To help with this, he advised students to, “Volunteer for as many things you can.” Pregracke closed in stating that “If you see a problem, do something about it.”