Chad Pregracke, barge dweller and cleaner of rivers, answers questions
With what environmental organization are you affiliated?
I am founder and president of Living Lands & Waters.
What does your organization do? What, in a perfect world, would constitute “mission accomplished”?
Our main objective is to clean up trash from America’s river shorelines, one piece of garbage, one river at a time. We do this through grassroots organizing of community cleanups. We also have three other programs: the Riverbottom Forest Restoration Project, Big River Educational Workshops, and the Adopt-a-Mississippi River program.
“Mission accomplished” would mean people would stop polluting rivers, and we would have nothing to clean.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
The good news is that although I’m the president, I am rarely in the office. There is no typical day for me; I do anything from scouting for trash before a cleanup, picking up trash, and cutting a derelict barge apart, to speaking at conferences, attending meetings, and fund-raising.
Photo: Greg Boll.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
The Mississippi River was literally my backyard growing up. I spent eight hours a day shell diving for six seasons; I tried commercial fishing, selling snowboards, making and selling hand-crafted furniture, and selling the Vegan All-Star Meal at Grateful Dead concerts.
How many emails are currently in your inbox?
I’m not sure how many emails are in my box; ask Laura, the office manager, who answers my email. I already have enough to do without email. I hear her talk a lot about spam — whatever it is, she must love it!
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Silvis, Ill., and I lived in rural East Moline until I began my cleanup efforts. I lived on a cramped houseboat with the other crew members until we got a donated barge that we travel on for 10 months out of the year.
What do you consider your environmental coming-of-age moment or experience?
One day I saw people on boats enjoying a day out on the river, anchored about 20 feet offshore from an ugly barrel pile in my hometown. I estimate the 50 or 60 barrels had been there for at least 40 years. That’s when I decided I was going to do something.
What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
When our 42-foot houseboat — the former world headquarters for the cleanup operation — sank. Two weeks later the tugboat sank.
What’s been the best?
There’s no one single moment. It’s more like a series of defining moments that makes me think this is all worth it.
What’s on your desk right now?
Which one? The desk on the barge, the dashboard of my truck, or my desk in our main office over my parents’ garage?
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
I don’t get easily aggravated, but I hate the waste of too much packaging on stupid products.
Photo: Laura Lopez.
Who is your environmental hero?
How do you get around?
Barge, F-250 diesel 4×4 truck, and boats powered by Honda four-stroke engines.
What are you reading these days?
Usually captions under pictures.
What’s your favorite meal?
Fish tacos that I ate last week.
Would you label yourself an environmentalist?
No, I never have. I may be a conservationist, if anything. I don’t like the label of environmentalist because it makes me seem different; I’m just a regular person. I’d like people to remember that anyone can make a difference.
What was your favorite band when you were 18? How about now?
The Grateful Dead when I was 18. Now, it’s hard to say; I like different kinds of music, like blues and hip-hop. I saw Metallica two weeks ago — it pumped me up to go out and clean!
What’s your favorite movie?
Mac or PC?
Who? I don’t know anyone named Mac and I’m not very PC.
What are you happy about right now?
I’m happy about where the organization is, our accomplishments, where we’re headed, and the fact that the sun is shining today.