This photo from the 2010 Great River Rumble shows Living Lands and Waters founder Chad Pregracke, left, giving an impromptu informational program to the river paddlers he encountered in the Mississippi River. SUBMITTED PHOTO/JOHN MILLER
This photo from the 2010 Great River Rumble shows Living Lands and Waters founder Chad Pregracke, left, giving an impromptu informational program to the river paddlers he encountered in the Mississippi River. SUBMITTED PHOTO/JOHN MILLER
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Thanks. We're moved to think of all that we're thankful for and to especially express it at this time of year.

Personally, I'm thankful for this community full of good will and support - and even the occasional bit of "tough love" I've received during this past year of accident recovery. I did nothing to deserve such support and, because of that, it's humbly welcomed with much thanks.

I'd also like to thank someone whose love for our greater Mississippi valley - and river and watershed health everywhere - recently led to his recognition as the CNN cable television channel's 2013 "Hero of the Year."

Hero Chad Pregracke - also known as the Garbage Man of the Mississippi - started and heads up the Living Lands and Waters nonprofit. Pregracke and his crew, aided by thousands of inspired and motivated volunteers, pick up thousands of pounds of garbage each year from the Mississippi and other rivers. Pregracke started his nonprofit organization, Living Lands and Rivers, in 1998.

The Mississippi, which we all know intimately and certainly love around here, is very much at the heart of Pregracke's motivation and work. He's from the Quad Cities, which consists of five, yes, five, cities straddling the Mississippi. They are Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Rock Island, Moline and Pregracke's home of East Moline in Illinois.

Pregracke won this latest honor through public voting in an online competition at the CNN Hero website. He was first named as one of 25 nominations accepted and then among the 10 semifinalists. Pregracke was announced as the winner Nov. 20 during a ceremony honoring the top 10. Anderson Cooper hosted the event, which will air on CNN Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. It will be fun to watch and see publicity given to our Mississippi River area and this wonderful effort to keep it clean.

A story on the program in a CNN blog stated, "Pregracke, 38, grew up in East Moline, Ill., 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.

"'I saw thousands of barrels, thousands of tires, cars, trucks and tops of school buses. . . I got sick of seeing it and just wanted to do something about it,' said Pregracke, whom some have called the rivers' garbage man.

"For nine months out of the year, Pregracke lives on a barge with members of his 12-person crew. They go around the country with a fleet of boats and they try to make cleanup fun for the volunteers who show up in each city."

For more information on Pregracke, go to the website containing his CNN Hero nomination information, www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/2013.heroes/chad.pregracke.html

Of course, you can also check out the nonprofit's website at www.livinglandsandwaters.org at

I haven't done the research to which came first, this cleanup of big waters or the cleanups of local waters, but I and many others also sincerely thank all the efforts in that arena. Two I can think of, off the top of my head, are organized by Eagle Cliff Campground near Whalan to clean up portions of the North Branch Root River and by Chimney Rock Campground of rural Decorah to do the same on portions of the Upper Iowa River. Thanks also go to sponsors of these events and certainly to the volunteers.

State programs to clean up Mississippi River tributaries sponsored by their respective Departments of Natural Resources in Minnesota and Iowa, as well as others not mentioned here, are also owed our gratitude.

On the very local level, thanks go to our Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) offices, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices, land owners along streams, all those who refrain from dumping trash and garbage in a ravine - and all those who've helped clean up such inexcusable, toxic messes.

Thanks to those who appreciate the efforts of Pregracke and his Living Lands and Waters and voted to make him a winner. Now the cause of cleaning up waters will be in the national eye and likely inspire further such efforts. After all, water is our lifeblood.

As for Pregracke, he, too, appreciates the efforts one person can make with an idea and motivation to help the world. Of his $250,000 winnings from the competition, he's donating $10,000 each to all the other nine finalists and their projects. I'd call that "paying it forward" - just what we've come to expect from Pregracke.

"Pay it forward" in your own way to become a humble hero yourself in the world.