Memphis River Warriors - Colton

Colton Cockrum – Founder and Leader of the Memphis River Warriors

If there was ever a man who has a mission, it’s Colton Cockrum, founder of the Memphis River Warriors – a community organization bringing new awareness to the litter problem in our beloved Mississippi River – one plastic bottle at a time. In our interview he says, “There’s something about that River that just puts its claws in me.”


Colton sings to the choir when he expresses his love for the River; but many of us are not moved further than the occasional viewing of the Mississippi’s remarkable beauty. However beautiful the Mississippi’s majesty is, particularly in the Lower Alluvial Valley, all too often the problems of the River are out of sight and consequently, out of mind.

Luckily for us and Colton, his Commander and Chief (slash wife) told him one day, “Stop talking about the River and be about it!” With those words of wisdom Colton did just that!

He called up our very own beloved Commandant of the Lower Mississippi, and renowned, navigator, John Ruskey, aka, Johnnie Driftwood, founder of the Mighty Quapaws Canoe Company. And the two, along with a few others, initiated their first “Be a Man” excursion along the Mississippi.

Immersed deep inside the twisty channels of the Mississippi, Colton was mesmerized by free flying majestic raptors and mysterious lone animal footprints along immaculate beaches. Often his thoughts would transverse to the conditions of the River in his neck of the woods- McKellar Lake.

Memphis River Warriors - kayaking through garbage

Trash on the River behind the pyramid, photo by Dale Sanders.

Literally, he called it, “a big floating piece of trash.” 

Colton reminisced about one of his first clean up encounters with “The River Clean-Up Guru”, Chad Pregracke with Living Lands & Waters. Every year Chad and his awesome crew come to Memphis and host an Alternative Spring Break, when college students from across the nation come to voluntarily pick up trash along the Mississippi River.

While gloved and with a trash bag in hand amidst the McKellar Lake garbage during the spring of 2011, Colton spotted an old faded out glass Gatorade bottle. Glass Gatorade bottles have not been in circulation since the 1990s! With that find, it was obvious that stagnate and uncollected trash had been there for at least decade. At that point Colton realized that if it were not for Chad or himself being there-cleaning up the trash, “no one would be there.”

Sadden and disappointed, Colton further explained that, “McKellar is not the lake of the 70s.” Back then, Memphians were along the shores and riverbanks camping, skiing, and riding on anything that could float.

To date, there have been vast improvements, thanks to the dedication and donations of trash bags and gloves by Memphis City Beautiful and the Sierra Club, boats by Living Lands & Waters and countless volunteers provided by the Memphis River Warriors and others. However, the Riverside/Riverview community is still a very vulnerable neighborhood and chronically plagued by nearby chemical plants and an oil refinery.

Memphis River Warriors

The dawn of that 2011 spring clean-up provided the impetus for Colton to gather a guerilla group of volunteers to keep McKellar Lake and the Mississippi River clean for Memphis and the region. Bearing witness to the news coverage of the clean-ups and how many of the students found a new sense of pride in what they were doing and accomplishing, Colton realized that “when you say something out loud, you take ownership of it.”

These days, almost three years later, Colton and the Memphis River Warriors are responsible for extracting over 80 thousand pounds of trash while utilizing an estimated 1700 volunteers.


Volunteers following a Clean-up - you could be in the next group picture!

Volunteers following a Clean-up – you could be in the next group picture!


You may contact Colton at or on FACEBOOK for additional information.

Join the Memphis River Warriors down in Memphis, TN on October 25th from 9am-12pm for your chance to get in on the action.


karen cropped headshot

    Karen Thornton, 1 Mississippi Outreach Assistant