Paddling to the next level: Jeff Neumann, avid canoer, kayaker, opens business

Jeff Neumann is not stranger to canoes and kayaks. His new guided paddling tour business introduces inexperienced paddlers to the sport. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Jeff Neumann’s loves paddling. His new guided paddling tour business introduces inexperienced paddlers to the sport. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Jeff Neumann is no stranger to canoes. He got his first taste of paddling as a 10-year-old boy, in Quincy, Ill. That’s where he and a cousin lashed two canoes together and spent idyllic days floating in protected waters along the Mississippi River.

As a teenager it was weekends on the Pere Marquette and White rivers in Michigan. The Neumann family had relocated to Grand Rapids. When the work week was over they piled into the car and headed north to paddle those rivers.

Today, at 53, Neumann still loves the allure of a quiet paddle, the natural scenery along rivers in Michigan. So much so, the former Grand Rapids Community College electronics instructor launched a guided canoe and kayak business upon retiring from teaching.

The company is GR Paddling LLC. You can find it at on the web at grpaddling.com

“We paddled all the time,” said Neumann, a tall, lanky man who exudes a youthful enthusiasm for canoeing and kayaking.

“We got into this business because we want to let others enjoy paddling the way we enjoy it. My wife and I were paddling down the Grand River one day and thought, ‘Oh, this is cool. We could do this for other people.’”

And they have.

A family business and love of paddling

Rita Neumann, Jeff’s wife and a physical therapist, is the paddling company’s business manager. Their son, Mark Neumann, a theatrical lighting designer and event coordinator, is the technical guy behind their website.

GR Paddling LLC is different from most canoe livery services where people are shuttled to a river, dropped off and picked up downstream.

The Neumanns offer a personalized service, limited to eight in a group, where alcohol is

Jeff Neumann introduces a group of Grand Rapids Community College students to their first experience kayaking on the Grand River. Photo: Mark Neumann

Jeff Neumann introduces a group of Grand Rapids Community College students to their first experience kayaking on the Grand River. Photo: Mark Neumann

not allowed, but paddlers are encouraged to bring binoculars and watch birds or take in the natural scenery and environment.

The company offers guided trips down a number streams like the Grand, Coldwater, Flat, Thornapple and Rogue rivers along with a variety of area lakes. It provides door to door pickup and drop-off services, canoes, kayaks, paddles, lifejackets and some basic instruction.

Neumann, an American Canoe Association certified instructor, accompanies his clients on their trip, offering tips along the way and showing them where to go.

Door to door hassle-free service

Just recently he paddled with a couple from Florida. They had flown into Grand Rapids for a quick vacation with two young children. They found Neumann’s unique paddling service on Experience GR, the city of Grand Rapids’ website.

He picked them up at their hotel and took them down an eight-mile segment of the Grand River between Lowell and Ada, a scenic paddle that many never get to enjoy.

“She was scared to death; they were from out-of-town,” Neumann said. “She asked about alligators. They never would have done this by themselves (through a livery). Some people need a little TLC.

“And they did great. They flew in Saturday morning and did as much as they could while they were here. It made a world of difference that I was going along.”

Neumann’s business caters to inexperienced paddlers, people who otherwise might never get out and try canoeing or kayaking, or those who need a little assistance.

He sees potential in the travel market, out-of-town visitors who can order up a trip to fit their schedule and get picked up at the hotel and dropped off later without much fuss.

‘We are looking to work with tourists in town and companies who want to do team building and people who want to get out and experience these things for the first time,” Neumann said.

If you’ve got family or friends in town visiting and want to show them a good time, or business associates with tight schedules that enjoy the outdoors, GR Paddling might be just the ticket. Jeff Neumann will certainly be enthusiastic about getting them on the water and back home safely.

Other guided kayak tours across Michigan

In Michigan, there are several guided kayak tour companies offering everything from wine and cheese day trips to exotic trips in foreign countries. If a guided adventure appeals to you check out:

Uncommon Adventures, Beulah: Paddling tours on Grand Traverse Bay, Isle Royale and Michigan rivers. It also offers guided tours in Alaska, Honduras and Iceland. See: uncommonadv.com

Paddling Michigan, Christmas: Paddling Tours along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior and to regional destinations. See: paddlingmichigan.com

Woods & Waters Ecotours, Hessel: Guided day trips and overnight paddling tours in the Les Cheneaux Island region of northern Lake Huron. Also trips to Drummond Island, the Straits of Mackinac and tours just for women. See: woodswaterecotours.com

Inland Seas School of Kayaking, Beaver Island: Day trips and overnight trips around the island and to other Lake Michigan islands. See: inlandseaskayaking.com

Whitecap Kayak, Ironwood: Day trips and overnighters along Lake Superior, including the Apostle Island National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, the Huron Islands and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. See: whitecapkayak.com

Paddle Away LLC, Traverse City: Day trips on Grand Traverse Bay around Traverse City, Bowers Harbor and Old Mission Harbor on the Old Mission Peninsula. See: traversebaypaddler.com

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This column appears on MLive Outdoors 

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