When asked if it felt like him versus the river, Chad Pregracke responded to the reporter, “No, it’s me versus that cup, or that tire, or that can.” (paraphrased) Chad was the recipient of CNN’s Hero of the Year award for his life’s work of cleaning up the Mississippi River with the organization he created called Living Lands and Waters. He spoke at two engagements on Monday, one at Glendale High School and one at Drury University. His energy was tremendous and his advice was profound. His words of encouragement toward students were as strong as his passion for clean water. Briefly, Chad grew up along the Mississippi and upon realizing how full of trash it was, he set out to clean it, first from a small boat, then from a couple of barges, now with thousands of participants and hundreds of cities along the major basins that feed the Midwest. His message was simple, if you see a problem start fixing it. He fought major obstacles, bypassed the traditional “system” and achieved his goals of working to make the river a safer and healthier place to be. He and a crew of about a dozen people live and work full-time on the rivers picking up trash and recycling the waste.

To follow up and find an outlet for the newfound energy we had gained, a group of Drury students set out to clean a section Jordan Creek. I think the experience was eye-opening in more than one way. First, I was asked “Where does all of this trash come from?” I explained the pathways of stormwater runoff, windblown paper cups, and cigarette butt flotillas from the careless hand of a passerby to the bigger rivers and oceans. It was clear that the concept had not occurred to a few of the students as their eyes lit up with understanding and dimmed with the realization of the problem. The bright side, however, was the sight of stormwater improvements in action. We were surrounded by gabion basket walls, engineered wetlands, and other best management practices. In the stretch between Drury and Silver Springs Park, we encountered fish, crawdads, a night heron and a kingfisher. Smack in the middle of town, just a bit upstream of where the creek is hidden by streets, parking lots, and buildings. It was an encouraging sight.

At the end of the last two days, a one idea stuck with me; that change can be realized. Chad says that the sections of river he has cleaned with the community have remained cleaner. We saw that improved sections of the stream hosted a myriad of urban wildlife. I watched students who signed up for service hours leave as water lovers and protectors. Rivers can be cleaned. Storm sewers can become streams. Minds can be changed.

Thanks for reading.

Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.