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Group works hard to keep rivers clean
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Photo: Photo by Greg Boll for Living Lands & Waters
The Living Lands & Waters team: Ann Powers, Richard Southwick, Denise Mitten, Nora Coyne-Logan, Ben Grafton, Mike Coyne-Logan, Captain Mike Hanlin, Madeline Luloff, Geoff Manis, Chad Pregracke, Tammy Becker and Ashley Stover.
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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Gary Madsen, of Davenport, finds a sunken shopping cart along the levee wall in Davenport in this file photo from Aug. 9, 2003, as he volunteers during Xstreme Cleanup, co-sponsored by Living Lands & Waters.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
In this file photo taken Aug. 9, 2003, Melanie Morse of Muscatine, Iowa, removes a truck tire from the Mississippi River near the Marquette Street landing as she takes part in Xstreme Cleanup, co-sponsored by Living Lands & Waters.
EAST MOLINE -- One group of Quad-Citians has found its calling by cleaning up the Mississippi and other rivers in the U.S.

Living Lands & Waters (LL&W) focuses on cleaning, beautifying and restoring rivers, and educating people about environmental issues. The nonprofit has removed more than 6 million pounds of debris from rivers. According to its website, the trash removed from various waterways over the years includes 55,301 tires, 12,322 beach balls, 775 refrigerators, 583 milk crates, 179 television sets, 128 barbecue grills, 181 coolers, 83 toilets and 42 messages in bottles.

LL&W's founder, Chad Pregracke, grew up along the river in East Moline. In an interview with Radish magazine in 2007, he was asked if he thought his life would have turned out differently if he hadn't grown up in a house right along the Mississippi.

"Absolutely -- yeah, without a doubt," he replied. "My background and association with the river has obviously played a huge part in what I'm doing now and what I will do in the future. If you don't have much of a relationship with something, you're not connected to it."

In the early 1990s, when a teenage Mr. Pregracke was working in the summers with his brother as commercial clammers on the Mississippi, he started to take notice of the large amount of garbage in and along the river. Frustrated by the lack of government response to his pleas for a cleanup, in 1997 he landed a corporate sponsorship and on his own removed 45,000 pounds of refuse from the river.

The next year he founded LL&W and the organization held its first community-based river cleanup in the Quad-Cities.

Since then, the organization has expanded to cleaning up rivers across the U.S., has launched a variety of initiatives, including Big River Educational Workshops, Adopt-A-River Mile Program, Riverbottom Forest Restoration and the MillionTrees projects. It provided relief in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and in 2008 aided in the cleanup after flooding on the Mississippi and Cedar rivers and also in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

LL&W has grown today to a staff of 10 full-time and three part-time employees, according to office manager Madeline Luloff. Thousands more turn out to volunteer with its various projects each year.

The organization's accolades and awards have been numerous, most recently with Mr. Pregracke being named the "Hardest Working Person in America" last summer by Mitchum deodorant company, after being nominated by Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs."

Although he was honored he was selected, Mr. Pregracke said he doesn't think of himself as more hardworking than others."I'm one of many," he said, adding that when he's workingon a river cleanup, he's "working hard, but you're doing something positive."

He said he knows that what he does wouldn't he possible without the help of many.

"I can't accomplish the mission without the help from a dedicated bunch of conservationists and thousands of volunteers that allow us to keep the rivers clean," Mr. Pregracke said last fall.

Ms Luloff said the contest results confirmed what she and other staff members already know about Mr. Pregracke. She describes him as someone who is always focused on the organization's mission, and who "hits the ground running" every morning."We know how hard Chad works every day," Ms. Luloff said.

Last June, Mr. Pregracke and other LL&W employees and volunteers went to the Capitol Theater in Davenport to watch the premiere of a Discovery Channel show featuring their organization, called "River Warriors."The program followed Mr. Pregracke and seven volunteers as they attempted to clean up a stretch of the Mississippi River near St. Louis last winter.

While LL&W does many river cleanups in and around the Quad-Cities during the summer, Mr. Pregracke said winter cleanups are a different beast."When it's wintertime, it's more dangerous," he said. "It's very cold. It's a damp cold. You just do not want to fall in the water."

For more information on Living Lands & Waters, call (309) 496-9848 or visit livinglandsandwaters.org.

Local events heading

  Today is Wednesday, Sept. 17, the 260th day of 2014. There are 105 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: We are told league merchants have paid no attention to the prohibition on selling ammunition, but continue to sell just as before the order was issued.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The Rev. R.F. Sweet, rector of Trinity Episcopal Parish, left for the East to visit his boyhood home in Boston before attending the general convention of the Episcopal Church in New York.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Dr. E.A. Anderson was named to succeed Dr. E.L. Kerns as head physician of the Modern Woodmen of America, and moved to Rock Island from Holdingford, Minn.
1939 -- 75 years ago: One week late, because of the outbreak of war, Dr. E.L. Beyer resumed his work as professor of romance languages at Augustana College. Dr. and Mrs. Beyer left Germany on the last train to the Belgian border.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Employees in Turnstyle stores in Moline and Davenport will vote Oct. 2 in an election set up by the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. Employees will vote either for the Retail Clerk International or for no union.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Rock Island High School is considering a step to help teen moms stay in school and get their diploma. The school board is expected to vote tonight on instituting an on-site child care center.

(More History)