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Friends & Neighbors: Walking the Walk

Couples build business from land conservation and historic preservation

July 7, 2004 |

MLUI/Jim Dulzo

Clockwise from top: Mark Schrock, Steve Darpel, Kris Darpel, and   Martha Wickett-Schrock teamed up with two other couples to preserve Camp Tosebo and the lovely land surrounding it.

Early this year Mark Schrock, his wife, and three other couples purchased several mostly Victorian-era buildings and 56 acres of meadows and forests just north of Manistee by Portage Lake. Known as Camp Tosebo, the bucolic spot was a boys’ summer camp from 1912 until the mid-1970s, when a succession of new owners gradually transformed it into a bed and breakfast. When Mark and his friends discovered that the place was for sale, they worked with the sellers, Lulu Gargiulo and David Wild — Institute members who had already restored the big, main “Clubhouse” building and continued operating it as a bed and breakfast — and permanently protected most of the beautiful land around it through a conservation easement. Today the peaceful spot has three charming old buildings available for summer vacation rentals. Mark and partner Steve Darpel draw on their experience in general contracting and historic preservation to continue their ongoing restoration of the entire complex.

INSTITUTE: Why are you so committed to preserving open spaces?

MS: Martha and I grew up in rural areas. My family had a cottage that was a very special place, what northern Michigan was about back then: A cottage that was a cottage, not a mansion on a lake with email and big-screen TV. So the opportunity to preserve some of that spirit here was a no-brainer for us.

INSTITUTE: How else are you promoting Smart Growth?

MS: I’m on the City of Fennville planning commission; we’ve created a downtown design that forbids big boxes and supports a city center. New construction must be in a historic style, and we’re working with the township to prevent strip malls and instead direct development downtown. Steve and I and Martha and Kris own a downtown building with an espresso shop, a realtor, and a beauty shop; we’re restoring residential loft apartments upstairs. Steve is on the Saugatuck County Planning Commission.

INSTITUTE:  What’s encouraging, and discouraging, about development in Michigan?

MS: On our rides north we pass through a commercial corridor near Holland that is one big box after another. It’s almost scary, really in your face. It’s the kind of thing we are working hard to prevent south of Holland, where we live. But I’m excited by Lansing’s Old Town, which is on the edge of becoming something very cool. I’ve seen the budding downtown arts district in Mt. Pleasant, with the old Broadway Theater. Allegan has some great historic restoration. We have a very active historical society in the Saugatuck-Douglas area. Holland has an incredible revitalized downtown. And I really love the governor’s Cool Cities Initiative.

INSTITUTE: How did you discover the Institute?

MS: After we bought our property across from Camp Tosebo in 1996, we discovered that a massive gas and oil extraction was about to happen around here. The camp’s then-owner introduced us to Hans Voss, your executive director. We talked, read some Institute materials, and joined immediately. It struck a major chord with us.

INSTITUTE:  So how have we changed over the years?

MS: It was just Keith Schneider and a typewriter when it started. Now, you are a leading organization in your field. You are right in the thick of it — not mainstream, but definitely right in the middle of the stream. And you are up against this huge, reactionary, monolithic thing that can just throw all kinds of money at stuff. It is great to be a part of what you do. We read the Web site, love the Elm Street Writers Group, read the emails and Bulletin, try to walk the walk.

INSTITUTE: What would you tell somebody about joining the Institute?

MS:  Actually, I often tell people they should join. I say that contributions are smart investments in something really important: Maintaining our state and our natural resources and controlling sprawl. We must start managing our resources better.

The Institute’s Jim Dulzo edited this interview. There’s more information on Camp Tosebo at www.tosebo.com.

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