Mark Weisse: Conservation Begins in His Own Backyard

When Mark Weisse moved into his Clark Lake vacation home full time, a volunteer opportunity came knocking at his door. 

“Because I was living here full time and we don’t have that many full-time residents, a neighbor down the street came and asked me if I’d be interested in helping,” he said.

That neighbor was a member of the Clark Lake Advancement Association (CLAA), an organization of 200-plus people who own property around the 865-acre lake near Jacksonport. The organization aims to preserve the ecosystem of Clark Lake and the area around it – and, Weisse said, “make sure things don’t get worse.”

Like most Clark Lake residents, he was already a CLAA member when he got that knock on the door. But, though most property owners are members, not all members are particularly active in the organization – and he included himself in that category. 

Weisse works on a native-plant demonstration site. Submitted.

That changed when he retired from his job as a family-practice physician in Algoma and later moved to Clark Lake, where he and his wife had owned a vacation home since 1983. 

Shortly after that 2011 move, Weisse took over as chair of the Water Quality and Vegetation Control Committee (“a cumbersome name,” he said). Now he puts in about 10 hours a week for the organization – and 10 hours a week for more than 10 years adds up. 

A laundry list of CLAA to-dos that he has helped with includes identifying and mapping invasive species such as phragmites and purple loosestrife; monitoring the health of ecologically important plants such as bulrushes; supporting tree growth around the lake through programs such as The Big Plant, a yearly event during which 50-100 cedar saplings are planted; participating in a UW-Oshkosh well-water sampling project; planting native flora around boat launches to teach visitors about the plants; installing barriers such as coir logs to reduce shoreline erosion; supporting efforts to maintain no-motor and no-wake zones throughout the lake; inspecting trailers at the boat launch for aquatic invasive species; and giving boat owners information about best boating practices.

Weisse is surrounded by common invasive reeds called phragmites. Submitted.

Bolstering the Bandwagon 

A significant part of Weisse’s work involves getting Clark Lake residents to engage in conservation efforts of their own.

To that end, the CLAA has the SOS Program, previously called the Natural Shores Program. Its goal is to reduce the ecological impact of development around the lake by encouraging residents to make small improvements to their properties, such as planting native flora or using rain barrels to reduce water runoff.

“We’re trying to encourage people to do what they can for the stewardship of their own land,” Weisse said. “There are new people coming in all the time, and it’s always a matter of trying to convince them that making [the neighborhood] look like a suburb really isn’t the best thing for the lake.”

To make that an easier argument, the CLAA sends out newsletters to remind property owners of the ways in which they can make their homes more planet friendly. The organization also conducts surveys to identify the barriers that prevent owners from making these improvements, and it facilitates educational programs such as Buffer Buddies.

Weisse installs a coir log – a natural fiber product used to reduce erosion – with his wife, Patty. Submitted.

The Buffer Buddies program brings in a conservationist from the Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department who walks residents through their properties and points out which plants are native and which aren’t.

“We now have an inventory of native plants around the lake to help people make choices,” Weisse said. “If you’re going to put in a plant and want to know whether it’s going to grow here, we can say, ‘We’ve got seven properties where we know this is growing.’”

Convincing people to care can be a difficult task – but his former career equipped him well for it.

“As a physician, I spent my whole life trying to persuade people to do things,” Weisse said with a laugh. “You have to make it easy for them and start with baby steps.”

Besides, this is just what he wanted to do during his retirement. He didn’t know he’d be so involved in volunteering, but he did know he wanted to spend extra time outside, while also “doing something useful.” 

“I figure if I’m out paddling,” Weisse said, “I might as well be monitoring the bulrushes, too. Or if I’m out biking, I might as well have a pad and look out for invasive species. [CLAA work] just melds into what I do for fun.”

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