Chaska Middle School West science teacher Mary Jo Nairn receives a COVID-19 vaccine by Ridgeview nurse Kim Dhaene earlier this year, as the first wave of teachers were vaccinated.

Here are the top 10 news stories of 2021, selected by Chaska Herald staff.

What are your top news stories? Post your thoughts on the Herald Facebook page, or send an email to editor@chaskaherald.com.

1. COVID-19 sticks around

The county continues to grapple with the pandemic, more than two-and-a-half years after its inception, with additional variants cropping up. Vaccines are the most effective defense against serious illness, death, and spread, according to public health officials.

By late December 2021, Carver County had seen over 18,000 COVID cases, around 17% of its population receiving a “positive” test result so far. Over 630 county residents have been hospitalized for COVID, and over 85 have died.

In November, more than 10% of Eastern Carver County Schools students were quarantined and mask requirements remain for staff and students through at least Jan. 7, 2022.

ECCS logo

Voters overwhelmingly cast ballots in favor of a $550 per pupil operating levy.

2. Voters approve district operating levy increase

After 2019’s failed referendum resulted in Eastern Carver County Schools cutting $9 million from its budget, on Nov. 2 balloters overwhelmingly voted for a $550 per pupil operating levy.

With 69% of voters in favor of the measure, schools can rest easier without future budget slashes, program losses and larger class sizes.

“Approval of the referendum question allows the district to continue its commitment to providing students with access to high quality academics as well as other programming to support student development and success,” the district said.

GA school

After teaching generations of students, Guardian Angels Catholic School closed its doors in 2021.

3. Guardian Angels Catholic School closes

After 150-some years, Guardian Angels Catholic School rang its bell for the last time in May 2021. Following a decade or more of falling enrollment and financial challenges, its 64 students were being transferred to area schools.

“It’s hard to give up that home,” said longtime teacher Peg Scott.

The building remains in-use for certain church operations, with a for sale or lease sign in front.

Chaska State Champions

The Chaska Hawks completed the 2021 season with a perfect 18-0 record, the program’s first girls basketball championship in a 45-43 win over Rosemount on April 9 at the Target Center.

4. Chaska girls basketball wins first state championship

Two points made all the difference on April 9. A Rosemount faceoff that ended in a 45-43 win, the Chaska girls basketball team won its first state championship in program history.

With fans on the edges of their seats until the very end, the team capped off its 2021 season with a perfect 18-0 record.

“I’m so excited to put a banner up in our gym,” Coach Tara Seifert said. “We got football, we got boys basketball, we got volleyball, and now we have girls basketball.”

Body-worn cameras

Both the Carver County Sheriff’s Office and Minnesota State Patrol (pictured) unveiled a body camera program in 2021.

5. Sheriff’s Office roll out body-worn cameras

The Carver County Sheriff’s Office began training and rolling out body-worn cameras for deputies in October, budgeting around $95,000 for the year. It will be part of the office’s annual budget moving forward, according to Sheriff Jason Kamerud. The State Patrol also unveiled a body camera program late in 2021.

The Sheriff’s Office cameras, which the Chaska Police Department has had for a few years, are meant to activate during citizen contact and can be turned off when it is reasonably believed there is no longer a reason to record.

Groundbreaking officials

Local lawmakers and officials ceremoniously break ground near Highway 212.

6. Highway 212 expansion

A long-awaited expansion from two to four lanes on a 4.5-mile stretch of Highway 212 began in May, likely operable by fall 2022.

Stretching from Cologne (Highway 36) to Carver (Highway 11/Jonathan Carver Parkway), the highway has seen around a dozen deaths over the past 11 years. Safety concerns are heightened with the length’s 2,000-plus semi-trucks that use the road daily, prompting an additional four reduced-conflict intersections.

A westward portion of Highway 212 is set to see similar improvements from 2024 to 2026.

Hauling goldfish away

Goldfish, pictured in a truck, are hauled away by county staff to be composted.

7. Three-year goldfish study

Thousands of invasive goldfish live in Chaska’s Big Woods Lake inlet, likely between 100,000 and a million or more.

They first were spotted in 2019, likely from improper disposal of family pets.Carver County Water Management Organization and WSB & Associates, Inc. began a three-year study in the spring to track their movement, breeding patterns and population to figure out exactly how they impact the water system.

Over the summer, crews tracked goldfish movements with radio locators and antennas, and determined fish age by looking at their ear bones.

Catalytic converter

Catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise.

8. Catalytic converter thefts on the rise

A not-uncommon theft through the years, car part catalytic converters saw a theft rise across the nation in 2021. Carver and Scott Counties were no different.Re-selling for hundreds of dollars once cut off a car’s underside, common places to see the thefts are along major highways and at big box retailer parking lots.Officials reported 11 thefts in Chaska by from January to mid-March of 2021, and 36 in Savage in just a year. Even nonprofits were targets. Chaska rallied for His House Foundation & Abundance, a local human services nonprofit, after a catalytic converter was stolen from its bus, loaded with donations.

Athletic Park - Welcome Sign

Thousands of fans visited Chaska during the State Amatuer Baseball Tournament.

9. State Amateur Baseball Tournament

In what was another tough year of slogging through COVID-19, the State Amateur Baseball Tournament proved a step toward normalcy.

The tournament was held at Athletic Park in Chaska, Lions Field in Waconia and Hawk Park in Hamburg, and ultimately won by the Chanhassen Red Birds – the team’s fourth championship in a row.

Volunteers and city workers kept everything running smoothly, as thousands of fans from around the state came to Chaska to watch their team.

“It’s fun to bring Athletic to the fore. When people come into the park, I just love that they come up and they are amazed,” said volunteer Jan Schmit. “It is just lovely. And it’s not just baseball, but the community that is present. It speaks to the character of the town.”

Julie Hilden and Spirit

Julie Hilden and her horse Spirit.

10. Ride on, Spirit

A Shakopee resident got the green light to ride her horse, Spirit, on Chaska streets again after a March citation.The disabled veteran’s therapy animal serves as a community connection, too, visiting assisted living facilities and visiting children. Much to the delight of neighbors and readers, her ticket was dismissed “in the interests of justice,” according to court documents.“When you’re out on a horse, you’re free,” Hilden said.