‘Unhappy campers’ file suit against camp managers, city

October 15, 2014
Keith and Carol Kohl of Grand Rapids have filed suit against the managers of John Gurney Park and the City of Hart for what they believe was a wrongful eviction from the park last August.

Keith and Carol Kohl of Grand Rapids have filed suit against the managers of John Gurney Park and the City of Hart for what they believe was a wrongful eviction from the park last August.

By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

HART — Seasonal campers Keith and Carol Kohl of Grand Rapids filed a civil lawsuit last month against Freed Management Co., Inc. of Hart and the City of Hart for what they believe was a wrongful eviction from John Gurney Park last August.

The complaint filed in 78th District Court in Hart calls for a judgment totaling $12,350 in damages, plus attorney fees and taxable costs.

“On Aug. 24, 2014, FMC wrongfully and using false pretenses, forcibly evicted

The historical entrance arch to the park.

The historical entrance arch to the park.

Kohl from lot 70 of John Gurney Park,” the complaint states. “FMC breached the contract between Kohl and FMC by wrongfully evicting Kohl and his personal property from John Gurney Park prior to the termination of the lease term contained in the lease agreement.”

The complaint alleges five counts, including breach of contract; defamation; breach of Michigan Campground Act; claim and delivery; and conversion. The last two counts pertain to a 10-by-20 foot wooden deck owned by the Kohls that was allegedly seized by the campground, but has since been returned to the Kohls’ possession after the complaint was filed.

 “I will amend the complaint to reflect that they have decided to rightfully return the deck,” said the Kohls’ attorney, Bruce Block of Ada.

Lot 70 is the site where the Kohls were camped.

Lot 70 is the site where the Kohls were camped.

The Kohls, who are retirees, said this was their third summer camping at the historical campground overlooking Hart Lake, which officially closes for the season today, Oct. 15. The campground was under different management their first season, and they had no problems that first summer. But when new management took over for the summer of 2013, they immediately began having issues. The Kohls cite filthy bathrooms and incorrect lot lines as some of the issues they encountered. The Hart Police Department has been called to the campground in regard to the ongoing dispute.

The Kohls said they were never given a copy of the campground rules and feel they have been unfairly treated. Jennifer Freed, who manages the campground with husband Steven, did not want to comment specifically on the matter since it is in litigation. However, Jennifer did state that the campground rules were emailed to the Kohls when they were sent the campground contract.

“We still haven’t been told what rule we broke,” said Keith.

John Gurney Park closes for the season today, Oct. 15.

John Gurney Park closes for the season today, Oct. 15.

OCP was unsuccessful in reaching City Manager Stan Rickard for comment. A city hall employee stated he is out of the office this week.

City Attorney Doug Springstead said he had not yet received a copy of the complaint as of Tuesday morning, Oct. 14. “We (the city) may be named in the lawsuit but have no liability,” Springstead said. “He and his wife (the Freeds) did the evicting. We have done nothing to encourage or discourage. I don’t see that there are damages other than (the Kohls) can’t go to the park.”

The Kohls said they were told by the campground managers to stay out of the park — even as guests to other campers. Shortly after the eviction, Keith attempted to visit a camper at the park and was told by three HPD officers that he had to leave.

Keith admitted that he may have acted inappropriately the previous summer when became fed up with the conditions of the campground bathrooms. “I do not know the date of my explosion, but I did lose my temper,” he wrote in a document about his campground experiences.

The day he and Carol were evicted, Aug. 22, 2014, they were denied access to the fire pit on their site due to incorrect lot boundary lines on their site and the adjacent campsite, he states in the document. “A camper in a large motorhome asked (Carol) to move the car so he could pull his motorhome in. He said he was going to pull it in and stated he was going to be using the firepit I use.” Keith said he tried to explain to the incoming camper that the firepit was his and therefore his car did not need to be moved. He said Jennifer came to the site and ordered that he move his car or she would call the police. “I finally said it is time this be resolved, so please call the police,” he writes. HPD arrived, and Keith eventually moved his car. Shortly after that, the Kohls received an eviction notice.

Springstead said that there have been evictions of other campers from the park in the past, so the Kohls’ situation is not that unusual. He said the Freeds have done a good job managing John Gurney Park. “We’ve had no other complaints,” he said. “They’re doing a very good job running it.”

“I do not normally take cases like these,” Block said, “but the facts were so offensive.” The attorney said he has had a lack of cooperation from the city in getting the matter resolved without litigation. “It takes a lawsuit to get their attention,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. This is just a retired guy who wants to enjoy his summer.”

Freed Management has its own insurance, and their insurance company has its own attorney, Springstead said. “They have insurance of their own — that would probably be the source of recovery.” The 84-site campground has approximately 10-12 seasonal campers each year, Springstead said.

The campground has an interesting history. Former state senator Theron Gurney and his wife, Helen, donated the land to what was then the Village of Hart in 1912 for a park to honor their son, Lt. John Gurney (1871-1898). John Gurney, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, died in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba during the Spanish American War, according to the historical marker at the park. In 1914, the Progressive Park Association erected the landmark entrance arch as a memorial. John Gurney Park was one of several auto tourists camps developed along the West Michigan Pike during the 1920s that sparked the tourism industry in the area. Hart Lake was created in 1925 when the Pentwater River was dammed for the hydroelectric plant.

The Kohls said they have been vacationing in Oceana County for several years and camped at a Pentwater campground that closed a few years ago. After the facility closed, they decided to post up at John Gurney Park during their summers.

“I just don’t want this to happen to someone else,” Keith said of the eviction. “All I ever expected was for (Jennifer) to do her job.”

“We want to be able to go back there,” Carol said. “We loved it there, and we miss our friends who camp there.”

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