everything from car bodies to stoves from 35 miles of river banks to load onto Pregracke's barge. They fed off Pregracke's energy, and Missouri River Relief was born.
Now the not-for-profit Missouri River Relief has numerous cleanups scheduled on the river. St. Joseph, Kansas City, Glasgow, Easley, Hartsburg and St. Charles have all hosted or are planning clean-ups with the help of Missouri River Relief. The events consistently attract a crowd who see a challenge in the formidable amounts of trash on the banks of the Big Muddy.
"Communities seem to be looking toward their riverfronts as an asset now," Karpowicz added. "People have bought into Chad's belief that it's not okay to have trash on our rivers."
"For a long time, people just ignored these rivers," Pregracke said. "They didn't see their beauty or the resources they represent. If people spend a day--or just an hour--picking up trash along the banks, then the next time they drive over them on a superhighway bridge, they'll look down and see their work. They'll make a connection."
The corporate and private donations his clean-ups attract also make it possible for Pregracke to pay a crew--mostly college age idealists who like Pregracke's style and don't mind getting dirty--and to make the cleanups a way to teach environmental education.
"The money stinks," says Margaret Abts, a self-proclaimed "trash-picker extraordinaire." With a new biology degree in hand, she looked at the job market and chose Living Lands and Waters. "It's one thing to learn about a river in the classroom," she observed. "It's totally different to live and work on a river."
The crew, which ranges in number from six to eight, works extremely hard, but camaraderie and fun are always apparent. "One river, one mile, one piece of garbage at a time" is their slogan, but they all know they're part of something big.
They live on a barge fitted with a metal building divided into living quarters, a classroom and Pregracke's office. Everyone removes shoes before entering. That keeps mud out of the living area. The classroom hosted a dozen groups of shoeless teachers this spring who came aboard the barge to learn about river systems.
Pregracke provided the teachers with an overview of Living Lands and Waters and set ground rules for the day.
"Rule one - be safe," Pregracke said. "There are trip hazards around the barge. Key word: trip hazards.