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Chad Pregracke      

Founder of Living Lands & Waters, CNN's Hero of the Year for 2013, Environmental Speaker & Bestselling Author

Chad Pregracke is a modern day leader and proof that one person can make a difference. What started as one man’s crusade at age 23 to clean up the Mississippi River, has evolved into a cultural movement that had resulted in over 10 million pounds of garbage being cleaned out of America’s rivers. The vision and leadership skills that Pregracke possesses have inspired more than 100,000 people to volunteer their time and resources.

Pregracke has always loved the water, growing up in Hampton, Illinois with the Mississippi River literally in his backyard. His family spent the majority of their time on, in and around the river. His first jobs were working on the river, as a commercial shell diver, commercial fisherman and barge hand. Working on the river gave him a first hand and close up look at the shores that were littered with toxic trash.

At age 17, Pregracke began calling government agencies to tell them about the problem. None of his calls resulted in government action and the trash problem seemed to be escalating every year. He decided that it was up to him to make a difference and clean the rivers. At age 23, he founded Living Lands & Waters, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving our nation’s rivers. Pregracke worked tirelessly calling businesses to ask for an appointment just to tell the story of what he was seeing along the banks of the river. He heard no during every phone call and was near emotional bottom. After begging with a receptionist at Arconic, Pregracke finally secured his first appointment. Arconic took a chance on the young river kid and gave him his first check for $8,400, enough to cover expenses for his first clean up project.

Since 1998, the organization has grown to include over 12 full-time employees, a fleet of 5 barges, 2 towboats, 1 crane, 1 excavator, 5 work boats, 2 skid steers and 6 work trucks. Pregracke remains the driving force behind the organization and still jumps in the water, gets his hands dirty and tosses trash into the boat. His efforts have earned him global notoriety.

Speech Topics

Results, Not Rhetoric: How to Mobilize Your Team

Pregracke has learned to navigate political as well as physical landscapes, responding to challenges and opportunities with grace and precision. Recounting his personal journey from wide-eyed teenager to entrepreneur, he shares the pitfalls and serendipity he encountered while creating a mobilizing, one-of-a-kind nonprofit organization.

From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers

In this inspirational story, Pregracke takes us from the pitch-black depths of the Mississippi to its surface. His personal journey to restore pride in one of our nation’s greatest treasures motivates others to do the same.


'River's Garbageman' plants 1 million trees -
2013 CNN Hero Chad Pregracke and his nonprofit, Living Lands & Waters, planted their 1 millionth tree; Dan Wallrath, a 2010 Top 10 CNN Hero, celebrated the ...
2013 CNN Hero of the Year Chad Pregracke
Chad Pregracke's nonprofit, Living Lands and Waters, has removed millions of pounds of waste, trash and toxic chemicals from rivers across the US.

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