What do a hot tub, a prosthetic leg, and a giant red clown shoe all have in common? They were all pulled out of one of the United States’ 250,000 rivers by Mike Coyne-Logan. The long-serving crew member and educational facilitator for Living Lands & Waters (LLW), a non-profit group dedicated to the protecting, preserving, and restoring the natural environment of the nation’s rivers and their watersheds, joined Laurel Springs School students and faculty as the presenter at January’s Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women Symposium.
During Mike’s virtual presentation before nearly 100 LSS students located in countries all over the world, the one-time teacher detailed LLW’s humble beginnings in East Moline, Illinois. Founder Chad Pregracke, a then 17-year-old teenager referred to as a modern-day Huckleberry Finn, grew up in a home just steps from the Mississippi River. His backyard and the river itself served as his playground, one he began to notice was increasingly resembling a garbage dump.
Like anyone who cares deeply for his home, Chad yearned to keep the river and surrounding environment clean, so he began making phone calls to government agencies asking for financial assistance to fund cleanup efforts. Like most people who set forth radical change, Chad was met with resistance by officials who told him his efforts would never make a difference.
Undeterred and inspired by observing the names of sponsors speeding by on cars during a NASCAR race, Chad began to solicit funding from private companies. Unsuccessful in securing the $80,000 that would fund a crew and equipment, Chad used his own boat and an $8,400 grant from aluminum producer Alcoa to work alone cleaning up the Mississippi River.
Slowly but surely, Chad’s mission began to gain traction. His story ran on the front page of a local paper, was picked up by the Associated Press, and was ultimately showcased on CNN, where Chad revealed that he alone had pulled an estimated 33,000 pounds of garbage from the river and surrounding lands.
Since that CNN report first ran, LLW has gone from a one-man operation to the world’s largest organization of its kind. Ten full-time crew members are joined by part-time crew and countless volunteers (more than 100,00 since 1997), and spend seven months a year living on a barge, navigating the nation’s rivers and watersheds, removing harmful pollutants that have either been dumped or otherwise entered the waterways. To date, LLW has worked in 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces, has successfully removed more than 10 million pounds of trash, and has planted more than 1 million trees.
In addition to cleanup efforts, the members of LLW dedicate off months to educating the public about why keeping the nation’s rivers clean is so important. Mike, a one-time school teacher whose go-getter attitude and knack for motivating listeners earn him the nickname “Coach,” informed students that less than one percent of the world’s freshwater is utilized for drinking purposes, and with the Mississippi River serving as the main source of drinking water for more than 18 million people, keep it free of harmful pollutants like plastic is imperative.
Mike concluded his presentation by informing students of the ways they can help invoke positive change on personal and local levels by:
- Using Reusable Containers – Americans purchase more 2.5 million plastic bottles per hour, with only 1 in 5 getting recycled.
- Using Reusable Bags – Worldwide, nearly two million single-use plastic bags are used every minute, with a trillion used per year.
- Organizing a Neighborhood Cleanup – A large amount of waste material that enters the nation’s rivers originates on streets and is brought through sewer systems.
Past Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women
Interested in learning more about our Meetings with Remarkable Men and Women Symposia? Check out prior event recaps, featuring guest speakers: