Captain Cleanup of the Mississippi
Kramer, Gary, E Magazine
Huckleberry Finn he is not. But Chad Pregracke has been having his own brand of adventure on the Mississippi River, clearing its banks of tons of junk--rusting drums, old radials, even a bowling pin or two.
Pregracke, who is 24, was working summer vacations as a commercial shell diver when he realized how disgraceful the river had become. "I couldn't believe how bad it was," he says. "There were parts so bad they didn't look like they belonged in America."
For a college course, Pregracke developed the "Mississippi River Beautification and Restoration Project," an operating plan to clean up 1,400 miles of riverbank between St. Louis and Guttenberg, Iowa.
Next, he set out to prove it worked. In the summers of '97, Pregracke tidied up 140 miles of lazy-flowing river most of it by his lonesome. He has since soldiered on, his efforts winning public acclaim and financial backing from a range of sources. (Aluminum Company of America leads the pack with a $20,000 challenge grant.) The largess allowed Pregracke to take on six interns this last summer. They began cleaning near Grafton, Illinois in April. By July 4, they had worked their way 100 miles upriver to Quincy, also in the Prairie State. …