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The Alternative Spring Break Experience

Rivers are Life

Every spring, Living Lands and Waters hosts what they like to call their Alternative Spring Break program: week-long volunteer trips for college students to meet new friends, learn about environmental issues facing our waterways, and play an active role in conservation. 

Students from across the country gather together and spend the week traversing river banks and lakeshores by foot and boat to clean up litter. The students work closely alongside the Living Lands and Water crew and get a first-hand look at what it’s like for the crew to live on the barge.

In our film, “Study Aboard,” we highlight Chad Pregracke, founder and president of Living Lands and Waters, and his boisterous river rat crew. The barges are parked on McKellar Lake and serve as a floating visual of the lake’s pollution as well as the efforts being made to clean it up. They also serve as the living quarters for the crew and an environmental education classroom for the Alternative Spring Break program. 

Watch “Study Aboard.”

One Student’s Study Aboard

Abby Nordstrom, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, spent two spring breaks on the Living Lands & Waters barge. In 2022, Abby did not have spring break plans and decided to sign up to spend the week in Memphis, TN, with a handful of other students. 

She ended up enjoying herself so much, she returned in the Spring of 2023 for another fun-filled experience. One of Abby’s favorite trip moments was “seeing the difference between when we first approached a site and when we left.” The sobering amount of waste collected has left a lasting impact on her.

Abby explains, “The time spent picking up garbage with other students has raised my awareness of litter everywhere I go. It is a reflex to pick it up now and reminds me to take bags with me on walks.”

While the week is spent surrounded, quite literally, by garbage, the experience offers no shortage of hope. Abby enjoyed learning about Living Lands and Waters, the crew working on the barge, and the “simple-do good work” she’s very happy is being done. Seeing how much waste could be collected in a short period of time when many hands are taking part in the work is inspiring.

Living Lands and Waters allows college students to be part of meaningful, life-changing work in a fun and engaging environment. Students are transported by boat from location to location, and one of these boats transports a giant boombox to keep the students and crew entertained all week long. Abby enjoyed all of the “music and dancing, the crew members’ hype attitudes, and the humorous narrative” of the organization and environmental education that is shared with students throughout the week! 

A Day in the Life


Wake up at the hotel, eat breakfast, group up and drive to a local park. On arrival, students are greeted by the Living Lands and Waters crew, equipped with music and warm welcomes. 

The first day includes some background information of the organization, introductions, safety measures, and the first of several chapters of a playful narrative, performed live and on film by members of the Living Lands and Water crew. 

Students board one of the jon boats and ride out to picking sites. Once on site, students pick until lunch time. After all the garbage has been piled, the group travels back to the education barge to have lunch. 


Students receive another piece of the Living Lands and Waters story: the narrative continues all week long, including educational information and facilitated discussions about waste. 

Back to the action! Students dress again in their life jackets and head back outside to unload a morning’s pickings worth of garbage bags, tires, styrofoam, and large plastics onto the garbage barge. 

Bags are lifted from jon boats, moved and transferred by hands in a factory line fashion and flung onto a growing mound of garbage bags. Large recyclables and non-recyclables are sorted into various piles. These items are later taken and recycled into palettes through Chad Pregracke’s business, Green Current Solutions.


Once the morning collection has been unloaded, students board the boats again and travel to a new location to pick until mid-afternoon. 

Students chat while they pick, learning about one another and sharing interesting finds. Garbage is piled again on shore and loaded into a jon boat.

Upon the day’s completion, students travel back to the park. Everyone votes on the best find of the day and says their goodbyes until tomorrow. 


Students explore town together and enjoy dinner outings, local attractions, live music, and museums.

Board the Barge 

When asked what she would say to other students considering an Alternative Spring Break program, Abby explained, “You should participate in an Alternative Spring Break if you are not afraid of getting a little dirty, interested in learning about litter and waste consumption, and enjoy a bit of travel. Be prepared to have a good time and learn about the ways you can reduce waste and litter in your personal life and community.” 

Learn about Living Lands and Waters’ Alternative Spring Break program