Celebrating 60 Years at Riverside

Join us in a walk down memory lane as we celebrate 60 years at Riverside Canoe Trips! Over the past six decades, we have toasted to staff members who have grown up to marry, had the honor of working with multiple generations, and become a significant part of the community. To commemorate this milestone, we will hear from the past owners, Tom & Kathy Stocklen; the current owners, Kyle & Kelly Orr; and the next generation of owners, Jordan & Kaleb Orr. Come with us as we dive into our deep-rooted history and exciting future through a Q&A with the people who made Riverside the special place it is today. 

Launching into the River

Interview with Tom & Kathy Stocklen, former owners of Riverside Canoes

What inspired you to purchase Riverside?

Tom’s family vacationed at Little Platte in the late 30’s. He started vacationing with them when he was 5. We started vacationing there in 1964. Since Tom was not happy with Corporate America, he wanted his own business. He wanted to buy that “little canoe place.”

What amenities did you add over the years?

When we closed on Riverside in December of 1971 we had very few groceries, a few candy bars, beverages, a handful of camping items and a decent amount of tackle. The retail space was about 15′ by 25′ and the inventory was very limited. It was a Texaco gas outlet when we bought it. We built 2 additions in 1979 and ’89 which gave us a second restroom, retail space for groceries, souvenirs, clothing, gifts, offices, and ice cream room and a kitchen with a grill, from which we could serve deli sandwiches. We also added a walk-in cooler and 2 more bathrooms.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

No question about that. The biggest challenge was and still is the same. It is the National Park Service who covet that property and control of the Platte River contrary to the intent of the law that created this lakeshore. It is monumentally difficult to tell our story in a couple of sentences. The laws about Michigan waters that protect the use of the Riverside property, the use of the Platte River or riparian rights in Michigan are complicated. I could write a book about our experiences. Maybe I will someday…

Riding the Rapids

What were the best parts of running Riverside?

The best part would be the “kids” from 13 to 80-ish. Watching those kiddos learn and grow. And now to see the good adults they have become as they raise their families. And also the many friends we made along the way over those 40 years. Incredible. It is so heartwarming to see the third generation of the same families whose kids are working there today. And of course, being able to work right there on the river every day!

What are you most proud of in your tenure at Riverside?

Knowing when we gave our word that Riverside would be kept in the same use as it was originally intended, that of a “marina.”  Knowing we were facilitating the great memories so many families were making year after year whether it was canoeing, kayaking, tubing or salmon fishing. And last but certainly not least, passing that business on to Kyle and Kelly Orr so they could carry on that awesome tradition on that little gem on the Platte.

Interview with Kyle & Kelly Orr, current owners of Riverside Canoes

Why Riverside? What made you want to buy it?

Why Riverside? It’s an opportunity to connect with families during some of their most precious times. Also, who doesn’t want to go to work in shorts and T-shirt!

What makes Riverside a place customers visit year after year?

The Platte River is just a special place. Each year there will always be something different, but you will always have a beautiful warm river, a beautiful beach, and new memories to be made. There just is nothing better than spending a day on the river.

This seems like a great summer job, what can you tell us about your staff?

That truly is one of the greatest aspects of the “Side”. We try to have about 70 on staff. Most of which is made up of teenagers and college-age kids. We draw from local kids, kids whose families have summer lake homes, and now foreign workers! We challenge them, give them responsibility that most have never had before, and most of all we have FUN with them. Staff parties, full moon floats, and fires on the beach. I think it is safe to say we make life long friends here, and even a few marriages.

60 Years on the River

This is a family business, tell us about the family who work here now and the next generation.

So from day one John, Kyle’s dad came aboard. He truly is the best “Spot” guy Riverside could have. Then as Jordan and Kaleb got older, they joined the mix at the ripe old ages of 11 and 12 I believe. Now Jordan just graduated from Grand Valley State University and is joining full time. Kaleb just finished his second year at Ferris, with plans to join as well. It is our hope that Jordan and Kaleb will succeed us down the road. Grandma Jenny works in the gift shop, and anywhere else we need her really. Kelly’s mom Clare was with us for a few seasons, but Grayling called her away. We have also had the pleasure of employing our nieces and nephews, with possibly more on the way. Ava (8) and Ellis (3) are next up, but we have to wait them out for a bit.

What are you most proud of accomplishing or some favorite moments since you’ve owned Riverside?

Hmm, I believe the improvements we have made to the outside amenities have been really a nice addition. We have always thought the Stocklens ran such a rock solid business and set the bar so high, it was always our hope to keep the bar high! I truly believe that we have accomplished that. As far as favorite moments, two things come to mind. First, the lasting relationships we have with our staff as they return from their big boy/girl jobs to check back in with us. We know that we helped lay the groundwork for them to be solid, contributing members of society. So great to see. Lastly, the families and groups that come back year after year. The impact that this place and this river has had on their lives over the years is just so damn special. We are blessed to have the opportunity to serve folks in that way.

Floating into the Future

A few words from the next generation owners Jordan & Kaleb Orr

What do you hope to see in Riverside’s future?

Jordan: That we continue to have the ability to run a successful operation, as well as giving customers the ability to enjoy the natural environment surrounding us. Providing joy for future generations to come.

What do you love most about Riverside?

Kaleb: I love serving the families that go down the river, them smiling and them coming back year after year. It makes it all worth while.