Green River Friendship Cruise a 50-plus year tradition
Mark Peterson was only a kid when he went on his first Friendship Cruise with his father, Pete, in 1957. They traveled in a boat built by his grandfather, Arnold Feller, and Mark fell in love with the beauty and history of what was then a 197-mile trip.
Mark said a group of people from Green River and Moab, Utah, who had formed Canyon Country River Marathon Association and a group from Grand Junction who had formed the Colorado River Skippers joined together because they wanted to do boat racing on the river.
The two groups planned the route starting in Green River, going downriver until they reached the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, then turning north and going upstream to Moab.
Some people were apprehensive about joining in the race, being unsure of the course. To get folks familiar with the course, the Friendship Cruise was started. The leisurely trip over the course was held annually the day before the race.
Mark said that, at first, camping was primitive with no fancy gear. Your bed was a tarp or sleeping bag, and participants cooked over an open fire. In the early days most of the boats were handmade 14-by-16-feet Feller Craft with 40 horsepower motors. These boats were made by Mark’s grandfather, Arnold.
The marathon race quickly became popular as word spread across the country and people came from New York, California and everywhere in between. One year Feller took a Life Magazine photographer to Mineral Bottom so the he could take a picture of the boats taking off. Over 600 boats were on the cruise.
Mark said that in the early days participants went to Green River to sign up for the Friendship Cruise, paid registration fees, and then had pancake breakfasts. After breakfast boats were launched and the cruisers headed downriver.
Large signs were put up as mile markers and for locations, such as pointing out Indian ruins.
One hugely important sign was the one at the confluence of the Green River and Colorado River, informing the boaters to turn to the left or they would end up in Cataract Canyon.
Mark’s grandfather, Arnold, won the first race. Mark’s father, Pete, holds the speed record for the trip, clocked at 2 hours and 46 minutes and set in 1966. Pete’s average speed was 77 mph.
When evening came, most of the boaters settled in for the night at Anderson Bottom, a little more than halfway around the course. There the cruise participants would have what everyone referred to as the “party.” They had a steak fry and, in the early 1960s, live music. Someone had hauled in cement and made a dance floor, which is still there. The kids could run around and play games while the adults talked over the events of the day.
After the Lake Powell, Blue Mesa and Highline lakes were established, river racing dropped off, but the Friendship Cruise remains.
Mark said sometimes he thinks: “Why do I love this so much? The reason is because I can see the same thing every single time. We live in a society where things are constantly changing. This area is part of my childhood that has never changed. I can go through there and see things that I saw when I was 6 years old. And I think, ‘Wow, it is still there? It hasn’t been moved, the color hasn’t changed and my kids get to see it and experience it. No one has put a road on it or paved it or put in a parking lot.’ It is something that is fun to pass on to your kids and see them enjoy it.”
The 49th Annual Friendship Cruise will be over Memorial Day weekend. Registration takes place at the Green River firehouse all day Friday, May 27, and until noon on May 28. Registration fee is $150. Boats will be launched all day Friday and until noon on Saturday at the Green River State Park. The Friendship Cruise today is only 184 miles. For more information go to friendshipcruise.com.
If you have a boat, gather up your friends and family and enjoy this adventure trip into history. Check out several historic sites where Indians, cowboys and rivers explorers have gone before you.
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Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel. She is involved in many local preservation efforts and is on the board of directors for Colorado Preservation Inc.