After 40 years on the job, Joe Deden has retired as the executive director of the Eagle Bluff Learning Center near Lanesboro.
Since the Eagle Bluff Learning Center was founded in 1987, Deden has watched it grow and expand.
"Over my 40 years, we've had 500,000 people go through our programs to learn more about the ecology of southeastern Minnesota," said Deden.
The center began as just a few classes taught in the basement of his home that resides on Eagle Bluff property.
It then expanded into a day-use nature center, similar to the Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester.
Deden's greatest achievement came when Eagle Bluff became a residential center that allowed for overnight trips.
"As day-use, we could only bring in people from about an hour away, residential expands our draw and it increased out numbers greatly," said Deden. "So I think that has had the greatest impact. Normally our participants come from a two and a half hour ride time. So the metro area south, down into central Iowa, and over into central Wisconsin, the Sparta/Tomah sort of area."
The center also hasn't stopped growing.
"We acquired 150 acres track of land that we are calling "The Point". And then Dan and Janice Martin in Rochester, a former dentist in Rochester, have given us a 24 acre track of land also. So we have two new pieces of property that we're working into our programming to give us great programming potential."
Looking ahead to the next 40 years, Deden has high hopes for Eagle Bluff.
"My opinion is that global climate chance will only continue to get worse, to exasperate weather conditions and that the environment is going to become key to our success in survival," said Deden. "I would hope that Eagle Bluff can evolve to meet those ever intensifying climate needs to help people better understand how we can live sustainably where we're at."
For Deden, Eagle Bluff is his own piece of paradise.
"I love this land," said Deden. "I grew up in Red Wing, I worked for a while on the west coast, and I came back to the Midwest because this land speaks to me. Five generations of my family have lived in this area, so I'm kind of grounded here."
Deden will now continue as a half-time caretaker at the Learning Center.