VOICES: Family investment

Sawmill Tube and Canoe Livery owner Adam Trites continues 33-year tradition

This story is part of Voices of our community, which is designed to tell you something new about your neighbors. Participants are chosen at random for the interviews, in which we strive to share a portion of their lives with you, the reader. Look for this series every Monday.

BIG RAPIDS — Adam Trites would love to float down the Muskegon River on a hot summer day, relaxing in an inner tube, but he never gets the chance.

Instead, Trites helps up to 3,500 other people tube down the river during the busiest summer days at the Sawmill Tube and Canoe Livery. He took over the 33-year-old family business in 2010 and now spends every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day ensuring that other people enjoy the river.

OUTDOORSMEN: Sawmill Tube and Canoe Livery owner Adam Trites enjoys being outside for his job. His hobbies also include hunting and fishing. (Pioneer photo/Lauren Fitch)

“(The Sawmill) is such a main part of the town here,” Trites, 29, said. “Of the 30,000 people (who visit the Sawmill in a summer), 80 percent come from outside of a 25- to 30-mile radius (beyond Big Rapids). I don’t think people realize how many outside vacationers come up here and actually get to see Big Rapids and experience what we have.”

Trites, who lives in Hersey and graduated from Morley Stanwood High School in 2001, began working at the Sawmill at age 5, cleaning up the parking lot and blowing up tubes. He took over as the owner in 2010, although he did take a five-year hiatus from the family business to move to New York, where he met his wife of four years, Stephanie.

The environment at the Sawmill is great for Trites, an avid outdoorsman. He usually takes a couple months off after tubing season to go deer hunting in Indiana.

The Pioneer stopped by the Sawmill to chat with Trites about what drew him back to Big Rapids from New York and how the Sawmill has changed over the years.

PIONEER: Did you always want to take over the family business someday?

TRITES: No, I actually went through a period where I moved away to (Syracuse), N.Y., for about five years to take a break from doing it. I decided after being out there for awhile that the big city wasn’t my thing. I went to college for a few years and just decided I wanted to try the work thing instead of school for awhile, so I moved out there.

What did you do there?

TRITES: I worked for a pet food company, and worked my way up through the company to one of the director positions. Then our company sold out to a real large conglomerate, so that’s when I decided to move back. I got tired of the big city life and didn’t want to work for a company like that.

What did you miss about Big Rapids?

TRITES: The small-town atmosphere, and being able to come to work every day where it meant more than just getting paid at the end of the week. There’s an investment here because it’s a family thing.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the job?

TRITES: The nicest thing is being able to interact with the public and having a different atmosphere every day.

(My least favorite part) is being out here in the heat and not being able to enjoy the river in the summer months. It’s pretty much seven days a week (of work) for me for the whole season.

What do you do in the off season?

TRITES: The past couple years I’ve worked for a family friend doing construction. I spend some time for a few months going out and doing the things I like to do because I don’t have much time during the summer.

What is it like working with your family?

TRITES: It’s been difficult. At this point, I’m pretty much on my own here. It was the end of 2010 when my father passed away. I was in the process of taking the business over from him at that point. My younger brother was in the Marines, and just over a year (ago) he ended up having to leave on a medical discharge. He came here for a little while, and he’s just trying to figure out what he’s going to (do next).

How has the business changed since you were a kid?

TRITES: We started out with 17 tubes and eight canoes. The biggest thing is the growth that we’ve had. Right now I’m running about 2,200 tubes and about 190 boats.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen on the river?

TRITES: That you can put in the paper? (laughs) The craziest things that I see are the people who go more than four times in a week or more than two or three times in a day consistently throughout the summer. It’s kind of crazy how much time the local people spend on the water here. It’s like they quit working in the summer and spend a lot of time out there.

Who is your hero?

TRITES: My father. I’m pretty much following the same path he did. My long-term plan is to have this place for another 20 years.

(He taught me) honesty, more in the sense of being honest with yourself. Just allowing yourself to be real as far as what you want and what your expectations are. It seems like that was the biggest thing that allowed me to get to the point where I am now.

What’s one place you’d like to visit that you haven’t?

TRITES: I’ve never really spent a lot of time in the western area of the United States. I’d like to spend some time in the outdoors out there, whether it’s the mountain regions like Colorado or Montana.

How did you meet Stephanie?

TRITES: She is originally from Syracuse. She just happened to be finishing up school and living with her parents for a little while. I met her after a softball game that I played out there.

How did you know she was the one?

TRITES: We basically just talked (the first time we met) and that was the end of it. We didn’t exchange phone numbers. Then we happened to run into each other at a place neither of us had ever been before. At that point, we both decided it was kind of odd that we ran into each other at such a random spot (and started dating after that).

How did you propose?

TRITES: It was before a trip that we took. We were meeting a couple who were real close friends of ours who had gotten married. The first place I had taken (Stephanie) was to their wedding, so it was a big deal that we went on vacation with them every year. We were going down to Cedar Point. I was told by my buddy and his wife that I wasn’t coming home if I didn’t propose before or while I was there. (laughs) It had been two years (that we’d been dating). So (I proposed) right before we left so we could celebrate there with (our friends).

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