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Karpen protects her own property

Tecla Karpen grew up in Hastings.

In her 80s, she remembers more of the history of Hastings than most.

She loves the environment. Over the years, she's seen many of those spaces fall to development. Her mission in life is to protect the remaining spaces she calls "Hastings' environmental treasures."

Now she's "putting her money where her mouth is," as the saying goes.

She's putting the land around her home on River Street, above the Mississippi River, into the Dakota County Farmland and Natural Area Program, which will protect her property from development forever. Tecla has no children, but wants her property saved for the all of the children in Hastings.

Joe Beattie's biology class at Hastings High School and Friends of the Mississippi stepped in last week to improve the area she's putting into the conservation program. Last week, the groups pulled invasive plants -- buckthorn and honeysuckle -- and replaced them with plants that would have been in the area 150 years ago.

The area around Tecla's home was an oak savannah in the 1840s and '50s, according to Tom Lewanski of the Friends of the Mississippi.

"Actually, it was where the oak savannah met the oak woodland," Lewanski said. "If you look, the trees here tell the story. The big, beautiful burr oaks spread out because they had no other trees around them. In the woodland not too far away, the trees grew straight and tall because they were among other trees."

Old Mill Park is another example of oak savannah.

Tecla's house was moved from Nininger Township in 1857, and is the only home Tecla has known. It's the home she grew up in.

"My father's buddies laughed at him and asked why he was buying way out here in the woods," Tecla said. Her father sold part of the property for other homes.

"Five houses are built on the property Dad sold," Tecla said.

The property has had other changes over the years. Tecla asked Al Singer, the director of the program she's putting her property into, why there weren't many really old trees.

"He explained that the lumber barons came in and clear-cut part of the area," Tecla said.

"And my father didn't help. He had cows and chickens that roamed the property."

Beattie's students and Friends of the Mississippi volunteers worked to undo some of the damage.

"It's nothing we'll see," Tecla said. "But they're planting the seeds for the future."

Tecla is pushing to save other natural areas in Hastings -- what she calls a natural corridor for wildlife.

"If you start at Spring Lake (now a backwater for the Mississippi), follow these slopes along the Mississippi River to East Hastings and Lake Isabel, to the bottoms and to Bull Frog pond, and along the ridge and bluffs by the state hospital, and then to the Vermillion River, which goes north and south, you have wetlands that connect with Red Wing pool No. 3 and the priceless wetlands of the Mississippi and Cannon Rivers,"?she said.

"We in Hastings are stewards of this unique land, so vital for human and wildlife survival."