- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Finding themselves racing across the Ohio River in an open boat on a cool November morning, it was not your typical day in the classroom for 45 students from Evansville’s Signature School.

The students, in the school’s environmental science class, were on their way to the Living Lands & Waters floating classroom barge moored about 10 minutes down stream from the Evansville riverfront.

Living Lands & Waters, based in East Moline Illinois, was started 17 years ago by Chad Pregracke, a commercial fisherman and shell diver, who was distressed by the trash lining the banks of the islands he worked. Realizing no one else was dealing with the problem, he took it upon himself to clean it up.

He formed the Living Lands & Waters organization that has worked on 23 rivers across the nation and, with the help of 90,000 volunteers, removed more than 8.5 million pounds of trash.

In 2013, Pregracke was awarded the CNN Hero of the Year Award.

The organization now includes programs in invasive species eradication, organizing volunteers to remove honeysuckle and kudzu, and creating a nursery to grow native trees in the MillionTrees Project for restoring river banks by adopting a river mile, and educational workshops for teachers and students.

While successful in removing tons of trash and invasive plants, “that’s being reactive to the problem,” says Michael Coyne-Logan, an education facilitator with the group since 2007. “Three years ago we built this floating classroom to bring students out to be proactive to tell them about all the garbage and littler in the river and how they can prevent it.”

This year, in addition to combing 750 to 1,000 miles of river bank, the group has offered educational workshops to 50 high schools. Teachers can choose from seven classes.

The Sig School presentation focused on trash, pollution sources and the effects of invasive species have on native plants and animals.

“It’s a very neat experience that they have here, because you only get so much in class and this is kind of a interactive thing and you see all the different parts,” said student David Wahl. “The river and all the efforts they are making to clean it up, to see it in person and all the inner workings . it’s a very cool experience.”

His classmates were impressed by how the crew had decorated the barge with they have found on the river banks, creating works of art with bottle caps and driftwood. Discarded and washed away signs of every description decorate the wall of their home on a barge.

“It’s really fun just to see all the stuff people throw away that are on display, like we found your trash and it’s a key aspect of one mans trash is another man’s treasure,” said student Mary Seaman. “They are doing a fantastic job and we are so lucky to have people who are willing to give up so much to help everyone else.”


Source: Evansville Courier and Press, https://bit.ly/1XBN12t


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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