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Published on: Sep. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 8, 2010

Remember that, you'll be tested on it later. Rule two: No fun. Absolutely no fun is allowed." The teachers misbehaved and had fun anyway.

Tammy Becker is the Living Lands and Waters education coordinator. She works with Bryan Hopkins of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to get teachers onto the barge for a hands-on approach to river study. The teachers take their new knowledge back to the classroom. When Living Lands and Waters conducts a cleanup in their community, the students are encouraged to participate.

"Kids get so into it," Becker said. "They are really inspiring to the crew."

Becker conducted 10 teacher workshops in the spring of 2003, and more are planned. The workshops include some classroom instruction, but most of the day is spent on the river. Participants get a first-hand look at the attempts to tame the Mighty Mississippi. They also get a chance to see black-crowned night herons, pelicans, shorebirds, a variety of gulls and other river wildlife.

Some of them have the opportunity to meet Chad's brother, Brent Pregracke, a commercial fisherman on the Mississippi. Brent was working an area behind a wing dam on a cool clear day in May when the teachers' boats stopped to admire his catch. He held up a pipe coated with non-native zebra mussels. The non-native zebra mussels threaten to cover native mussel beds, eventually suffocating them.

Teachers admired the variety and beauty of Missouri's native mussels as Brent explained their use in the cultured pearl industry. He talked about other invasive species, like the big-head carp, that compete with native fishes for prime Mississippi River habitat.

When the teachers exhausted their questions, the boats motored to a forested shore where crew member Lisa Hoffmann talked about the importance of bottomland hardwood forests in the river ecosystem. She is using her degree in forestry to lead a Living Lands and Water initiative to replant native hardwood species, particularly nut- and fruit-bearing trees, to provide mast for wildlife.

Chad Pregracke and groups of schoolchildren collected acorns, hickory nuts and hackberries, and shipped them to Forrest Keeling Nursery in Elsberry to grow into seedlings. Funds from Alcoa and the Riverboat Development Authority helped pay for the trees, which will be planted this fall.

Pregracke's drive, coupled with his charisma and outstanding accomplishments, helped win him the prestigious Jefferson Award in 2002. Described as the "Nobel prize for public service," the award also went to Rudolf Giuliani and Bill and Melinda Gates. CNN produced a feature story on him, and articles about him have appeared in Outside, Smithsonian and Time magazines.Pregracke is grateful for the attention because it makes finding sponsors easier and enables him to accomplish even more river clean-ups. But it hasn't changed his practical, "results, not rhetoric" approach.

River politics and rival interests seldom get in his way. "I know there are conflicts out there, man, but I stay out of them," Pregracke said. "My job is just to clean up the river - that's all I care about."

Want to help clean up our rivers?

Step one - Don't litter!

Step two -Don't tolerate litter! Report illegal dumping to help local law enforcement crack down on those who despoil our lands and waters.

Step three - Get involved in river cleanup efforts, such as those held by Stream Teams, Missouri River Relief and Living Lands and Waters.

Missouri River Relief is hosting two cleanups this fall: September 13 in Kansas City, and September 20 in St. Charles. Go to their website for more information.

You can join a local Stream Team or keep up with Chad Pregracke's progress by visiting their websites.

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