Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: We Need More Riverkeepers and Fewer Litterbugs

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: We Need More Riverkeepers and Fewer Litterbugs

Article excerpt

We need more riverkeepers and fewer litterbugs

I talked to a real hero last week. Not a gunslinger, undercover agent or sports figure, but someone who deserved the recognition he got by being named CNN's Hero of the Year in 2013. Chad Pregracke's recognition evolved from his teenage goal that he spent his childhood on of trying to remove all of the trash, litter, garbage and whatever else didn't belong in the river.

Chad's story started more than 20 years ago when he set out on a mission to remove trash that had been dumped into the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Because of his own industriousness -- and the support of his family, who lived along the river and applauded his good intentions -- he was able to inspire others to help him clean up the river. The statistics are staggering. He has had more than 90,000 volunteers help with the effort. Chad and his army of people who care about our waterways have removed more than 60,000 tires from rivers. The disturbing part of this fact is how the tires got there in the first place. A tire doesn't just fall off a car and roll into a river. Someone intentionally puts it there.

According to one report, Chad and his volunteers have hauled more than 3,500 tons -- not pounds, but tons -- of trash out of waterways that should have been used primarily by boaters, swimmers and anglers. Included in that statistic are tons of bottles and cans. Among the big-ticket items have been more than a dozen tractors, more than 200 washing machines, a thousand-plus refrigerators and probably tens of thousands of 50-gallon drums. He has even found a school bus and at least four pianos. Some people have made a mess of our rivers and streams.

I see the problem on a much smaller scale on a beautiful, clear creek my grandchildren and I visit. On a canoe trip before I met Chad we returned to our landing to photograph six caterpillars we had found on vegetation along the creek. In the bottom of the canoe we had an old Clorox bottle, a candy wrapper and a Styrofoam cup, items we had picked up in creek side plants and tree roots. All had entered the water from somewhere upstream, probably where the creek goes under a highway. …

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