Canoe, kayak businesses enjoy successful summer season

Several liveries say their tube rental business has increased the last few seasons

By Dan Nielsen
Traverse City Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Vacationers are paddling through area canoe liveries at a healthy pace this summer.

Last week's cool and rainy weather was the exception this season. Sunny skies and warm temperatures ruled most of June and July.

"We sort of go as the weather goes," Kyle Orr, co-owner of Riverside Canoe Trip in Honor, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. "It's been a really good year for us."

The severe storm that carved a path of destruction across parts of Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Antrim counties on Aug. 2 tossed branches and trees across some area waterways and kept tourists away from some rivers and streams for a time.

"The storm definitely shook things up for about 10 days," said Katy Wiesen, co-owner of Crystal River Outfitters in Glen Arbor. "Things are starting to come around."

Wiesen's husband, Matt, started working for Crystal River Outfitters at age 15. The business went up for sale 11 years ago and Matt jumped at the chance to buy it. He and Katy were in college and dating at the time. Matt is now 34. The couple expanded their business interests in Glen Arbor by opening a bicycle shop and the town's M-22 store. The three operations employ about 40 people in summer.

Katy Wiesen said the business' agreement with the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore requires that a park employee accompany their work crew whenever it clears storm debris from the Crystal River. A combination of muscles and chain saws had the stream navigable two days after the storm, she said.

The Platte River, several miles south of the Crystal, was virtually untouched by the Aug. 2 storm, said Honor Canoe Rental owner Sherry Coykendall. Riverside and Honor Canoe Rental both host trips on the Platte River.

Coykendall bought the Honor business four years ago after it had been in operation six years. Her rental traffic has boomed.

"Oh my gosh, my business is up at least 80 percent," Coykendall said.

Liveries across the region report solid rental traffic this summer.

Riverside's 70 employees wrangle 150 canoes and 200 kayaks each summer. Orr and his wife, Kelly, bought the business five years ago after he worked as manager there for 17 years.

"We're very happy," he said. "We have no regrets."

Orr said Riverside lost power for 24 hours after the Aug. 2 storm. But it had little effect on business.

"We just kept renting canoes on Monday," he said.

Several liveries said their tube rental business has pumped up in the last couple of seasons.

"We've had way more tubers this year," said Riverside's Orr. "It's been warm this year."

"June and July are always canoes and kayaks," said Steve Dow, owner of The Honor Trading Post, which services the Platte River. "Once you get into August it seems like it's all tubes."

Dow bought the business 12 years ago and has invested lots of sweat equity in the operation.

"I've been building it over the years," said Dow. "I work it hard, hands-on definitely."

He employs 17 people each summer, mostly high school and college students who return summer after summer.

"We've got some great guys and gals," Dow said.

He has added to his fleet of boats over the years. He recently began renting stand-up paddleboards for use on local lakes.

Marissa Osterman and her husband run Alvina's Canoe and Boat Rental on the Betsie River near Interlochen.

"July was fantastic," said Osterman.

The business has been in the family for 90 years, Osterman said. Her husband's great aunt ran the operation for many years.

"Her wish was for it to be in the family for 100 years," said Osterman. "We decided to take it over. We are a small fleet right now, but we would like to grow a little each year."

Liveries throughout northwest Lower Michigan have rented canoes for many decades. Kayaks have been gaining in popularity for years.

"People are definitely leaning toward kayaks," said Wiesen. "You still have the traditionalists who prefer canoes."

She said many people prefer kayaks on the twisty Crystal River. The wider Platte River still gets its share of canoe enthusiasts. The increasing popularity of tubes is undeniable.

"I'm surprised at the turn to tubes and kayaks from canoes," said Coykendall. "Tubes have been phenomenal. We rented three times more tubes this year. People just want to kick back and have fun."

The beginning of school season traditionally brings an end to the summer rental rush. But Wiesen said paddlers who float during the September salmon run experience a whole new aspect of the river.

Published: Thu, Sep 03, 2015