Time and Again
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January 1998: The Tennessee River 600
Personal watercraft (PWC) took us by storm in the ’80s and ’90s, and while the much maligned “wet bikes” began their lives as toys, it wasn’t long until people started pushing the envelope.
In 1995, Earl Wallace and Steve Mohon took a dare and ended up riding their Sea-Doos all the way from Buchanan, Tenn., to Knoxville — 600 miles up the Tennessee River. Afterward, they turned their navigation notes over to Price and Kay Hopkins, who took the show on the road, so to speak, by spreading word about the route, getting sponsors and creating the Tennessee 600.
HLB was along for the inaugural ride in 1997. “I’m convinced Price, Kay and the others had absolutely no idea of what they had gotten themselves into when they started planning this trip,” wrote Glenn Yarbrough. “Day one began with 135 PWC carrying about 220 riders idling out of Paris Landing Marina into the main river channel. Finally came the anticipated words, ‘Blast off!’ The water roiled as the engines roared — after nearly a year of planning and dreaming, we were finally underway.”
The trip took six days (not Wallace’s and Mohan’s original four) and along the way the riders endured surprise thundershowers, strong winds and waves, dense vegetation that clogged intakes, and high water and swift currents. But “spirits remained high and everyone seemed excited to finish the cruise,” said Yarbrough. “Trips like the Tennessee 600 are wonderful adventures. When this many people put forth such as effort, good times happen.”
Now entering its 18th year, the Tennessee River 600 has attracted hundreds of riders representing as many as 19 states, and to date has raised a total of $191,853 benefiting two children’s hospitals and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). It’s thought to be the longest running organized event for personal watercraft in the U.S.
March 1998: Heartland Hero
All of America knows him now as the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year for dedicating his life to cleaning up the U.S. waterways. But we knew Chad Pregracke back in 1998 as a 22-year-old with a dream to save 1,200 miles of Mississippi River shoreline from Guttenberg, Iowa, to St. Louis, Mo.
“After two years of having his dream labeled as ‘crazy’ and repeatedly having people telling him he couldn’t do it, Chad set the plan in motion. That’s when he began his one-man effort to clean up the river,” write contributor Gary Kramer.
Pregracke would move his houseboat to a backwater near an area he targeted and would then tow a large cargo trailer to a nearby launch ramp. Using his jon boat as a garage skow, he would remove trash from the shore and load the trailer until he had a full cargo to take to the salvage yard. Day after day, mile after mile.
Later that year, Pregracke founded Living Lands & Waters, a non-profit business dedicated to continuing the river cleanup on a larger scale. When we visited him again in 2010, Living Lands & Waters was coordinating cleanups involving thousands of volunteers and collecting tons of garbage from the inland waterways. In addition, the organization had started planting nut-bearing trees along the riverbeds to entice more wildlife and was hosting workshops and watershed conservation initiatives.
In naming Pregracke its 2013 Hero of the Year, CNN proved that one man’s dream can develop into big-bang proportions. Over the past 15 years, he has helped pull more than 7 million pounds of debris from the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Potomac and Anacostia rivers.
“Picking up garbage, it’s tough, miserable and hot. We try to make it fun,” Pregracke said. “A lot of people call me a conservationist or an environmentalist, but the thing is, I’m no different than anybody else. I just want to be known (as) a hardworking American.”
Editor’s note: Want to read more articles from our first 25 years? We'll be posting these and other landmark stories on our website throughout 2014.