Old cars from '50s, '60s dug up during riverbank restoration in Cedar Rapids

Excavation work happening along Sac and Fox Trail

A nonprofit called Living Lands & Waters, based in East Moline, Ill., coordinated a riverbank cleanup, excavating abando
A nonprofit called Living Lands & Waters, based in East Moline, Ill., coordinated a riverbank cleanup, excavating abandoned old vehicles along the Sac and Fox Trail and Cedar River in late September in Cedar Rapids.

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Quad Cities nonprofit has been in Cedar Rapids cleaning up rusted out cars abandoned along the Cedar River decades ago as part of a riverbank restoration project.

It’s unclear why the vehicles near the Sac and Fox Trail south of downtown are there, but rivers were long treated as a place to dump what was not wanted, said Dan Breidenstein, multimedia specialist and project coordinator for Living Lands & Waters, which is based in East Moline, Ill.

“People looked at the river as a source of getting rid of stuff,” Breidenstein said. “Out of sight, out of mind.”

The organization worked with a contractor to excavate what was left of approximately a dozen old cars — approximately 21,500 pounds worth of scrap — late last month. The vehicles had been there since the 1950s or 1960s, he estimated.

The group plan to return again this fall to clean up the trails and again in the spring to finish the job. A few cars remain to remove, and they identified a substantial amount of trash on the south shore of the Cedar River, Breidenstein said.

They are also working with city and private sector leaders on a tree-planting effort in Ellis Park, he said.

This spring, volunteers will be needed to help with the cleanup, and Kirkwood Community College and Coe College already have been contacted about possible partnerships, he said. Those interested can contact him at


“Cedar Rapids has a special place for us and the Cedar River, especially,” Breidenstein said. “After the big flood happened in 2008, we went there (in 2009) and in 3 hours removed 100,000 pounds of garbage. That has been one of the largest impacts we’ve had.”

In Cedar Rapids, they’ve partnered with Legacy Corp., Alter Metal Recycling and Trees Forever on the current project. The organizations have donated some or all of their services, he said. Cargill and John Deere also have sponsored their efforts.

Founded in 1998 by Chad Pregracke, the small organization travels around the country for seven to nine months a year taking on similar restoration projects. After leaving Cedar Rapids, the group moved on to the Ohio River in Indiana.

They have five barges, including a house barge with eight beds, two bathrooms, a kitchen, galley, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and a classroom to carry out their teaching mission. Another barge holds an excavator. There also is a barge for garbage and recyclables, one for tires and, finally, one for scrap metals.

The group has worked on 24 rivers in 21 states collecting more than 10 million tons of waste, Breidenstein said.

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