Karin Jenson has worn many hats in her life—news reporter, lawyer, executive—in various cities like Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, and New York. She has covered major stories for Ohio’s largest newspaper, has run a team working on the Bernie Madoff litigation, was recruited by General Motors, and was later a director at a start-up working with artificial intelligence in business.
But her latest adventure has brought her to a house on 15 acres of forest just outside of Mt. Pleasant. The property sits right where the Chippewa River meets the Coldwater River; fittingly, the property is called “Two Rivers.”
“I was doing all these different things without an anchor in my life, and I wanted to just set down roots,” she explains. “And part of what appealed to me about a small town is the roots. It's just a different world here.”
Jenson purchased Two Rivers last April, moved into the house, and began to mark up photographs of the buildings and landscape with design ideas she had in mind. She soon contracted with area designers and builders. Major renovations began, including some creative ways to honor the original landscape of the property. For example, the new floors in the house will be made entirely from downed and standing dead ash trees found on the property.
In fact, Jenson says that great care has been taken to consider the natural world around her at Two Rivers.
“I decided if I'm going to go through this massive renovation, I don't want to contribute to the problem. And so, I'm not going to increase the footprint of the house, and I'm going to work all local to the extent that I can.”
With a career background in journalism, law, and technology, Jenson says she definitely wasn’t an expert in environmental and conservation issues in mid Michigan when she first moved to the area last year. But she was determined to learn.
“So, I did two things. I hired a consultant to do a complete inventory of the trees, and I called the executive director of CWC,” she says.
The CWC, or Chippewa Watershed Conservancy, is a mid-Michigan organization that works to protect and restore natural resources in the area. One of the many things Jenson learned was that an invasive shrub species called Autumn Olive ran rampant over the Two Rivers property.
“It's a beautiful tree with flowers, but they spread like crazy. So, these huge standing hardwoods had Autumn Olives, and they were choking the trees. They weren't getting the water that they needed. They weren't getting the sunlight that they needed.”
Jenson says she was advised that if she acted now by getting rid of the shrubs, she could make a huge difference.
“The existing trees will do better because they'll get more rainfall and sunlight, and new trees can grow. So that's what I'm doing. And I literally have cut down thousands of Autumn Olives, and I'm not close to being done.”
Jenson says she’s also not close to being done with her career trajectory. As her renovations and conservation efforts continue, Jenson is living at Two Rivers, but working remotely as the vice president of program management for DataRobot, a technology platform utilized by customers all over the world.
“This is my third career, and I feel like I have a fourth in me, and it's here in Mt. Pleasant at my home as a writer. And I think that I have a whole slew of topics that I would want to write about, including the value of taking risks, because that's really what has marked my entire professional life,” she explains.
Jenson says she’s still adjusting to the changes that have come with her latest risk at Two Rivers, but she’s confident it will pay off.
“I love having a space to throw myself into, to throw my energy and my passion and my intensity and focus on improving the world around me,” she says. “I'm still working I-don't-even-know-how-many-hours a week. It's just in my blood. But now I can direct it, and it's just something that I can focus on for the rest of my life.”
Part of that focus involves a seat on the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy Board of Directors and bringing more awareness to the devastation caused by Autumn Olive trees in the area.
“I cannot wait to just get lost in learning about conservation,” Jenson says, adding that another major focus of her new life in the Mt. Pleasant area is her 14-year-old son.
“He's doing great here. That just makes me so happy. And he can see himself here for the rest of his life. He's been all over the world. But he now gets to experience what it's like to have roots and to experience big families that have roots in the community.”
“So, I just want to immerse myself here, and I look forward to getting to know more people and getting to know the community and making an impact where I can, using my skills to help make life better here for people and just learning from
people here,” Jenson concludes. “If I'm living my values, then I'm contributing to the world, I'm contributing to society— whether it's in writing or my work on CWC. If I'm using my superpowers, then I'll be in a good place and I'll be a better mother. I'll be a better person.”
Learn more about local conservation efforts and the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy by visiting https://www.chippewawatershedconservancy.org/.