Rivers’ Garbageman Named CNN Hero of the Year!

Rivers’ Garbageman Named CNN Hero of the Year!

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Chad Pregracke with tireThe Good News Network is thrilled that a young man we’ve reported on for years, who has removed more than seven million pounds of garbage from America’s beloved rivers, has been named the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year.

With so many outstanding individuals nominated for the award, each creating miracles for so many people, it is the humble garbageman and defender of the Earth, Chad Pregracke, who takes home this year’s $250,000 prize, after five weeks of public voting on CNN.com.

Pregracke organizes community cleanups across the country through his nonprofit, Living Lands & Waters. About 70,000 volunteers have pitched in, helping Pregracke pluck millions of discarded tires, refrigerators and plastic bottles from rivers like the Mississippi.

Pregracke, 38, grew up in East Moline, Illinois, where the Mississippi River was in his backyard. As a teenager, he worked as a commercial shell diver and began to notice the heaps of debris in the fabled waterway, which supplies drinking water to 18 million people in more than 50 U.S. cities.

These days, Pregracke lives on a barge for nine months out of the year, with a 12-person crew, moving around a fleet of boats to assist cleanup volunteers.

His nonprofit has already held more than 700 cleanups on 23 rivers — and close to 90% of what they recover is recycled.

Once named the “Hardest Working American“, Chad was recognized Tuesday night along with the rest of this year’s top 10 CNN Heroes.

Wearing a suit and tie, Pregracke received $250,000 along with the distinguished black trophy. That is in addition to the $50,000 that each Hero in the top 10 receives.

River Cleanup LivingLandsLivingWaters“I’ve met so many great people today, the other Heroes, and I’m really moved by all their stories and all the things they do around the world. … I’m going to give 10 grand to each of them, because they’re awesome.” (Read about the ten runners-up at the bottom of this CNN report)

This is the seventh year CNN has conducted its annual search for CNN Heroes. In those years, the campaign has profiled more than 200 people with inspiring televised reports on each one (see Chad’s below).

Each year, a glitzy gala held after Thanksgiving honors the slate. “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” airs Sunday, December 1, at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.

RELATED: Love of Rivers Makes Him Eager to Do the Dirty Work