The winner of Mitchum’s Hardest Working Man in America contest was awarded $100,000 last month for his labor of love: hauling tires, trash – and even rusty cars – out of the nation’s rivers on behalf of his non-profit conservation group.
Chad Pregracke has worked for twelve years to clean up America’s rivers – retrieving over six million pounds of debris including 775 refrigerators and 55,000 tires.
Pregracke was shocked as a high school student when he first glimpsed the trash that littered the bottom of the Mississippi. In 1998 he founded Living Lands & Waters, based in East Moline, Illinois, and today, the organization has grown to include ten full-time employees and a fleet of four barges, a towboat, six workboats, two skid steers, six work trucks. The crew has worked with tens of thousands of volunteers along the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and Potomac Rivers.
“Although Mitchum’s contest focused solely on my efforts,” said the humble Pregracke. “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.”
His work offers other rewards beyond peace of mind: He met his bride-to-be when she came on board as a volunteer.
Having received 50,000 votes in the Mitchum contest, Pregracke will be among the subjects featured in a short film by acclaimed documentary director Albert Maysles set to premiere on Sundance Channel in early October.
A wide range of Americans submitted reality videos on which the voting was based, ranging from a drill sergeant, fighter pilot and working mother, to a custodian, and blacksmith. Their films offered a rare bird’s eye view into our neighbors’ lives and provided a source of inspiration on the tireless efforts of Americans every day.
WATCH Chad’s inspiring video below…