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Going wild for conservation

When Mike and Trudy Berggren moved eight years ago into their home in Afton, which sits at the headwaters of Valley Creek, they knew it needed a lot of work.

"We knew it was a pretty property, but we didn't know all the history of it," Mike said.

The 30-acre property, which houses the last natural reproducing brook trout stream in the Twin Cities, was overrun with invasive species such as buckthorn and a lot of runoff and erosion were occurring.

So the Berggrens have spent the last several years restoring the property to its natural state since they wanted to help preserve the trout stream, and the pond, which produces 3 million gallons of fresh spring water every year.

"It's our stewardship to make this better than when we found it or bought it," Mike said. "Over the years it's just become a part of us and who we are."

The Berggrens' efforts were recognized recently by the Washington County Conservation District when the couple was named the 2011 Outstanding Conservationists.

"The award was kind of a shock and out of the blue," Mike said. "It was unexpected because we do this because we enjoy doing it."

'A labor of love'

Over the years the Berggrens have worked with the Valley Branch Watershed District, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the United States Fish and Wildlife Services on a variety of different projects.

"We take one really big project a year trying to make it better for the wildlife," Mike said.

The first project the Berggrens completed was to install 200 tons of glacier boulders to help with the erosion issues on the shoreline of the stream and pond.

Additionally, Trudy worked to plant natural rain gardens made up of 5,000 native plants to help with runoff.

Next, the Berggrens began removing 18 acres of buckthorn that were overrunning the woods on their property.

"The invasive species had taken over and we wanted to make sure we were doing our part to eradicate them," Trudy said.

The Berggrens said the work they have done was their first experience with landscaping and conservation work, so it took a lot of trial and error to identify how to proceed.

"It's learning as you go," Trudy said.

"We've gotten much better at it over the years," Mike said.

Even though many of the Berggrens' projects have been a lot of work, Mike said in the end it is worth it.

"It's a labor of love," he said.

The Berggrens have begun to see the fruits of their labor with the return of 30 to 50 trumpeter swans to the pond every year, the return of turtles, deer, ospreys and other native birds.

"I think some of our efforts are paying off," Mike said. "We've created an environment for the wildlife to survive - we kind of treat this as a little sanctuary for the wildlife."

The most important reward though, Mike said, is that the trout are spawning.

"We've become very protective of it," he said. "It's the only one left, so it's our duty and our responsibility to protect that."

Trudy said seeing the wildlife is her favorite part of all of the work they have done.

"I enjoy the end product and being able to see what you've accomplished," she said.

The Berggrens' current project is remodeling their home to eliminate 1,500 feet of driveway to help with runoff issues.

Mike said he intends to continue working on the property and making it the best it can be.

"It's a lifetime of projects.

"To us, it's like art," he said. "There's not really a mistake that can be made when you're doing natural - nothing has to be perfect."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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