How one person's passion can inspire others to advocacy and action

posted by Megan McDowell on Friday, July 1, 2022

Bison Bridge Bison Statue

When Water Program Director Ingrid Gronstal and I went to the Quad Cities in August 2021 to table at Floatzilla, an event hosted by Quad-Cities' based organization River Action, people kept asking us if we had heard about Living Lands & Waters, if we knew who Chad Pregracke was, or if we knew about the Bison Bridge project. You could tell those folks in the area were really proud of Chad, his achievements, and the organization.  

Crowd at Barge Party

After reaching out to LL&W to learn more, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the annual Living Lands & Waters Barge Party on June 16, which celebrated 25 years of cleaning up America’s rivers. I was rewarded with meeting awesome volunteers and amazing staff pulling off one fantastic party at Schweibert Park in Rock Island, IL. 

The event was well attended, the food was tasty, and the number of items in the silent auction was impressive. The band was lively, as was the crowd. As I explored the area, taking a self-guided tour of the barge where the crew and volunteers live during river clean ups, I overheard many people talking about how they know Chad and how long they’ve known him.  

IEC hosted Chad as the keynote speaker at our 2015 conference, Elevate: Creating an Environment of Action. Back then, his notable stats included 800 cleanups on 23 rivers in 20 states, removing an estimated eight million pounds of garbage. Now, Living Lands & Waters’ website cites an incredible 12,663,579 pounds of trash have been removed! Pile of trash on barge

The Living Lands & Waters barge at the June 16 clean up

Not only does LL&W coordinate cleanup efforts on major rivers around the U.S., it also hosts educational tours and workshops aboard its barge, leads tree planting efforts through their MillionTrees Project, and encourages people to be river stewards with the Adopt-a-River Mile program.

Throughout the lifetime of the organization, volunteers have removed invasive species, and continue to do so on a special project in Illinois; during floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes have provided a variety of relief efforts. 

Megan and ChadHaving the chance to meet Chad personally, seeing how he lights up while talking about lifting up the voices of others and being united in a common cause, I understand why folks are so endeared to him and his cause. The staff are equally passionate and hard working as Chad. I imagine they attract volunteers with the same light and passion to their side as well. Cleaning up rivers is a dirty, tough job. But clearly rewarding in more ways than one. 

The event and the people I met demonstrated it is passion for an issue that drives action, and keeps the momentum behind it. We each activate our passion in different ways, whether it's through getting dirty on a river clean up, contacting your elected officials about water quality issues, attending protests, and/or financially supporting organizations who help to advance advocacy work. No matter how you choose to do it, it is important to get engaged with the world around us, to be involved, and help make a difference. 

Megan with Volunteers

If you’d like to learn more about volunteer opportunities with Living Lands & Waters, check their volunteer page on their website and contact them for more info.  

It would be great to see you on a river one day soon!

  1. clean water
  2. land stewardship
  3. water quality

About The Author

Megan worked with IEC from 2020-2023 as a Communications Coordinator . Megan is a Navy veteran who, thanks to the Veteran Readiness and Employment program, returned to college to pursue a career change in 2018. She is a Drake University graduate with a B.A. with a double major in Public Rela ... read more