tv Rescuing the River A CNN Heroes Special CNN December 7, 2014 9:00pm-9:31pm PST
♪ for decades, america's rivers have been drowning in trash, but one man has had enough. cleaning up polluted waterways is a dirty job. but he decided he had to do it. and, with his own unique style, he's convinced 70,000 volunteers to come along for the ride. >> yeah! >> he and his team have retrieved 8 million pounds of garbage from rivers around the united states. in 2013, the cnn hero of the
year is chad pedcracken. >> so many people were like, i've never heard you speechless, because i was speechless. >> the award included $250,000 for his work. but then chad surprised the other cnn heroes being honored with him. >> i'm just going to give $10,000 to each of them, because they're awesome. >> now, one year later, we caught up with chad to find out more about what he's doing, how he does it, and why he's dedicated his life to rescuing the river. chad's journey began right if his own back yard on the mighty mississippi. >> i didn't realize how lucky i was as a kid growing up on the river. but looking back, it's like, what a great place to live. we had boats, canoe, swimming,
fishing, always something to do. it's calming. it's freedom. it's made me who i am. it means everything. >> he al >> it also supports more than 1400 species of water life and americans depend on it for their drinking water. as he got older he grew increasingly concerned. >> i was a commercial shell diver, i worked on boats and barges. thousands of barrels, tires, refrigerators, washing machines, driers, people just accepted it as a dirty river. it disgusted me. i decided, nobody else going to do anything about it? i will. >> so in 1997, he got to work. >> i pretty much just was just by myself, starting. just digging out barrels, tires.
boat load after boat load after boat load. >> look at that. >> i'm not sure what people thought of me. i didn't really care. i was seeing my results every day. you know, i was making a difference. it's great. >> during the last 17 years, chad has held more than 800 river cleanups across the country through his non-profit living lands and waters. but each summer, he heads home for his favorite event. the extreme cleanup was inspired by chad's work on the mississippi. but now local citizens have taken it even further. >> yeah! >> this guy is really cool. he's got energy. focus. he makes me want to do mosre. now we have 40 to 50 streams we do every year. >> a lot of this stuff comes from the creeks and miles away and then ends up in the river. so my hometown has not only
embraced my mission, they've moved it forward. >> each year, more than 1,000 volunteers pitch in at different sites. >> it's power play here today folks. >> chad, and another crew member they call coach motivate everyone in their distinctive style. >> every cheapup i try to mix it up a little bit. sometimes we'll have a mock motivational speaker. >> no room for monkeying around today. >> sometimes we'll have a karaoke boat. but we always try to make it something that people don't expect. don't know what you got till it's gone. i tell you right now, you know what's gone? garbage. we've made a real difference. >> hanging tough on three. let's do it. come on, everybody. >> how do we do that and count. >> let's just clap for no reason at all. it's really fun to clap. why wouldn't we? >> he's serious about he does and has fun doing it, and
everybody wants to do it. >> we'll go into the o. >> sir, i know you want to hug her. go ahead. whoo! >> oh, oh, oh, oh, hang tough! unbelievable. ♪ >> when you go to cleanup, you want to make it safe, memorable and fun. you can mix those three things, you've got a good deal. >> once volunteers have settled into work boats, chad likes to encourage a little friendly competition. >> we want to create what's called boat envy. like i wish i was in that boat, that boat looks like they're having a good time. >> you guys yell and scream, number ones, high-five like we're having the time of our life and follow up with the laughter. >> guess what i saw out there earlier when i was scouting, chuck norris. [ [cheers and applause] >> chad and his troops are on a
mission. their target? trash on the river's islands left by a recent flood. >> there pretty much won't be anything left for a very long time. >> once these volunteers are ashore, they get their marching orders. >> go straight in and work that way. okay? just bring it back to shore. >> and the search is on. >> if you took a kmart and turned it upside down and dumped it out, that's what you find out there, everything. >> part of the payoff is the treasure of sorts that they find. >> i bound a bat. >> and i found a sled. >> it's a furby. >> look that, a tire just my size. i like that. our motto is clean a river is hard work. that's what it takes. >> another pair of jeans down. this mud sucks. it's kind of a pun.
that's it. we got it. >> you got it. she's got it. >> and you want to build on momentum. you want to tell people i had a great experience. come on down. >> and i was going to take the day off, but i love doing this every year. >> an enthusiasm definitely helps, with some pieces of debris like this old rusty buoy. >> you know what you're going to do? you're he going to help hole the motor so when we go to tip this in the boat doesn't just slide away. have you ever driven a mini bike, tri sickle? >> yeah. >> perfect. counting on you. >> one, two, three. >> let's give it up for emerson, folks. really holding it together out there. >> while chad is cleaning rivers
all across the country, in his hometown, his impact is easy to see. >> when you think of what it was, you used to get those oil drums up in trees. >> yeah. >> all that stuff's gone. >> what's pretty cool is the difference that's been made by all these thousands of people. and that's really cool. change is slow sometimes. it's like a barge or a tree. it builds momentum, but once it gets going, it's hard to stop. >> these guys are world champions. that's what they are. >> it's about people taking action in their own communities. and that's really what it's all about. that's how you change the world. you just change your world. that's how you do it. next. >> so, welcome to cnn cribs. >> chad gives us an inside look at life aboard his floating headquarters, his garbage barge. (vo) nourished.
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he's developed an elaborate system to get the job done. >> what started off with just one boat has turned into the only river cleanup operation in the world. we have boats, crane boat. >> at the heart is an 800 ton massive barge. >> it's four small irbarges put together. the toe boat pushes it wherever it needs to go. >> three of the barges are used to unload and store the tons of trash. it looks like a floating junk yard, but it's much more than that. >> so this is what we call the garbage barge, but it's not all garbage. actually all the bags, we need to go through every bottle, can, recycle as much as we can. this is our recycling barge. everything on this barge gets recycled. all the tires, appliances, batteries, propane tanks, cars. 85% of everything we bring in get the row cycled.
>> it's quite a feat. they've retrieved over 1,000 refrigerators, 70,000 tires and deprefibris filling 92,000 tras bags. >> not the prettiest sight, but to me, it looks like a cleaner river. >> it's also where chad lives with his nine-person crew for weeks at a time. the house barge. custom built in 2011, it's a big upgrade from their old quarters. >> the other barge didn't have air conditioning. it was one bathroom. so you had ten people and you stand in line waiting to get in, in the morning. the new barge is bigger, runs on solar. the only one like it on the river that i know of. so welcome to cnn cribs. this is our kitchen. where most of us hang out. place is getting along. >> living with the team most of the time is awesome.
you know. >> this is the coach, doing dishes like he always does. doesn't he, crew? >> no. [ laughter ] >> a little pre-rinse. >> prerinse. >> this is tammy. she joined the crew in 2002 and married chad nine years later. she remains an integral part of the team. >> look at this. everybody helps each other. so pretty much everything is cloned or recycled. girls bathroom. guys bathroom. washer and drier. an office that never really, bedroom, dorm room. and we used to on the old barge pack three or four people in a room this big. now everybody has their own room. it's great personal space and that's pretty cool.
so to me this room is why we built the whole place. this is our classroom. and in conjunction with all of our cleanups, we're mixing education, getting the river clean and keeping clean is two different things. you've got to mix education in to make it sustainable. >> the goal is serious, but there's definitely quirk in this. >> this is our creepy doll collection. weird things we find. motorcycle helmets, a lot of those. lot of bowling balls. >> how about how this random stuff gets into the river in the first place? >> there is without a doubt a lot of, i think, mad bullers. people get mad. you find them still in the bag. people just throw them off a bridge or wherever they come from. and it's perplexing. >> what's chad's favorite find? >> got something pretty cool here. this is one of the world's largest message in a bottle collections.
and actually, this one we just added to extreme cleanup. it's our newest one. there's 60-some in here, all sorts of different crazy messages, really cool. this is my ultimate one, called lavender for you. it's written for guitar. so somebody was a musician. this one they put the postage money in there to send it back. so i probably need to do that. this one, this one was from a long time ago. 1993. the flood of 1993. they're smart enough to put rocks in it so it weights it down so the current takes it. here's one. this one's pretty cool. bill clinton, picture of bill clinton. it's kind of cool to find it. >> the work is uniquely rewarding but holding cleanups in town after town is challenging. >> we're moving and setting up cleanups and making it happen. it's always go, go, go. it's kind of like being in a band. bands have tour buses. we have a barge.
much slower. when you move the barge you have to pull up the two spuds like and course and use the crane to get the ramp on. untie it, move the tow boat in place and go wherever you're going. it's a process. >> and the river itself has hurdles, locks,29 of them on the upper mississippi alone. >> so the river is like steps, all the way down. so we're just going to go, get in the lock. it will raise us up. we'll go on to our next place. >> often the barge has to wait hours to go through a lock. once inside, the gates shut behind it. >> and it basically fills up like a bathtub, a big bathtub. >> the water lifts the barge to the next level. >> so gate's opening and we're ready to roll. >> even when the barge is under way, it doesn't exactly move at warp speed. >> we'll probably go about 6, 7 miles per hour, tops. that's fast for a barge. >> which means going someplace that's one hour away by car
takes about ten hours to get to by barge. to save fuel, chad's crew often catches a ride. >> we'll hop rides with other tow boats in the shipping industry. we're kind of like a hitchhiker with a huge backpack. and it's free, so boom. >> northbound, interstate 80. >> today the barge is using its own power to head up to port byron, illinois for a unique event, it's tug fest, tug-of-war over the mississippi. >> it's iowa, illinois, one rope t that goes across the river, and each state pulling on it. >> one, two -- >> go, go, go! >> it sounds crazy, but it's real. the rope is like a mile long, and it's really cool. i love the event. it's a small town, right on the river. and people are having a great time. >> today illinois wins.
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not to be focusing, again, on my moderate my goal was to finally get in shape. to severe chronic plaque psoriasis. so i finally made a decision to talk to my dermatologist about humira. humira works inside my body to target and help block a specific source of inflammation that contributes to my symptoms. in clinical trials, most adults with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis saw 75% skin clearance on humira. and the majority of people were clear or almost clear in just 4 months. humira can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. serious, sometimes fatal infections and cancers, including lymphoma, have happened; as have blood, liver, and nervous system problems, serious allergic reactions, and new or worsening heart failure. before treatment, get tested for tb. tell your doctor if you've been to areas where certain fungal infections are common, and if you've had tb, hepatitis b, are prone to infections, or have flu-like symptoms or sores. don't start humira if you have an infection.
set a new goal today. ask your dermatologist about humira. because with humira clearer skin is possible. chad pregracke also known as the river's garbage man has brought his cleanup operation to 23 rivers around the country. >> we cover a lot of ground. we cover a lot of river with our cleanups. >> in illinois, the barge traveled almost 550 miles south to spend the fall cleaning the ohio river, first stop, paducah, kentucky. >> 60 miles from the confluence of the mississippi and ohio.
it's a hub for the marine industry, so all the barges, tow boats are here. >> but barges aren't all he'll find on this river. >> one of the safety concern the is the flying carp which sounds crazy to a lot of people, but they really do fly out of the water at high speeds, and they get rather big. >> the carp gather in the warm, shallow areas near the shore, so when the boat comes by. >> they jump out of the water like a defense mechanism. it's the sound of the engine bothering them. it's one more concern that we have in the cleanup. in this river we go ahead and run a boat without anything on it. run it up, spook them out of there. >> ha! >> see that, he was in and out. there they go. don't be scared. we're all right. there we go. we got one. they love flopping around. [ screaming ] >> you don't even need a net. it sounds fun, but they can be like a missile.
they're very invasive, they've taken over a lot of the habitat. i'm not too fond of them. these things are very slimy, very slippery. that's what they look like. kwarp. they're bad. they're not my favorite fish. let's say that. that's why. carpe diem. >> seizing this day, chad has enlisted a special group of volunteers for another cleanup, his 803rd. >> the challenge, which company can get the most employees out there. it helps us out because we get more people. all the barge companies. it's all the people who use the river. >> we're going to clean up some river today, are you guys ready? [cheers and applause] >> it's important to us. you see all the trash that's around, and it sickens you. >> chad's operation runs like a well-oiled machine, enabling the volunteers to get to work. even after all these years, chad
still attacks each piece of garbage with gusto. >> it's part of an old fridge. so i'm just going to get it out of here. >> not only does he get results. >> yeah! >> another fridge down! >> he's spreading an important lasting message. >> have you found any good garbage? >> all garbage is good garbage if it's leaving the river. >> see, there it is. great statement, nailed it! >> but it's not just about taking bad stuff out, in 2007, chad began putting good stuff back in, growing and planting trees. >> the list is this wrong as to why trees are good. the roots filter the water, hold back the banks of the river, produce a lot of food for the wildlife. and i really like trees. >> this new nursery is at the heart of his million trees program. >> welcome to a living lands and waters nursery. we have about 125,000 baby oak trees growing here. they look like vegetables, but
they're really three different kinds of oaks. we started planting them on the mississippi river, but now anybody wants a tree, we give them to him. >> he's grown more than 725,000 trees, and hopes to reach his goal of 1 million in 2017. his secret? >> you know how to grow a good tree? give it a live love. go out at night, ooey, ooey, ooey. >> he created this nursery with a cachet ward for being chosen cnn hero last november. it was a big surprise on a special night. >> i'm humbled to be part of all this. and i'll just keep on cleaning up america's rivers and love every minute of it. >> i have so many favorite parts of my work. you can work with thousands of great volunteers. and it's very tangible.
>> it gives you such a sense of accomplishment saying, i did that. >> essentially what everybody's doing is serving their country and making it a better place. >> game, game, game, yes. got it. >> you guys love it today? yeah! >> i hope you come back next year. create the same sort of opportunity. a river shouldn't be trashed. with your help, we're making a difference. thank you. let's give it up. i never thought of myself as an environmentalist. i just thought of myself as maybe a person who quared. i'm still on the same mission i was when i started. a cleaner river. the message of our work is we can make change. just take action. just get involved. anything's possible. you request make a big difference. >> and tune in this sunday night to cnn heroes, an all-star tribute and meet the person who's following in chad's footsteps, the 2014 cnn hero of the year.
it's a star-studded evening sure to inspire. cnn heroes an all-star tribute, this sunday, you won't want to miss it. veterans day, a day to honor and thank military personnel who serve the united states. since 2007, cnn heroes has honored many every day citizens who devoted their lives to supporting the men and women of the armed forces. among those who are giving back are some familiar faces as well. >> people did recognize me from forrest gump. >> morning, sir! >> celebrities who step away from the limelight to entertain and humor the troops. >> my official name in afghanistan was general foxy lady. t