Some people see the annual Friendship Cruise from Green River to Moab as nothing more than an exceptional time in the sun.
"It's more than that," said Ben Coomer, Commadore of the Canyon Country River Marathon Association, a non-profit organization. "Our intent is to promote and preserve the beauty of the area, and preserve the unique history of the river."The annual Friendship Cruise is now in its 30th year. Every Memorial weekend, power boaters from around the West gather at Green River, boat to the confluence and then up the Colorado River to Moab - almost 200 miles total.
It's an event that has attracted up to 900 boaters a year in the past. Last year, only 90 participated in the Friendship Cruise. About 150 boats are expected for the 1988 Friendship Cruise.
"It's lost much of its popularity in recent years," said Coomer, "because people have lost the spirit of the original founders. In the past, boaters would work to build trails along the river, preserve Indian ruins and put in mile markers along the rivers. That was the spirit of the Friendship Cruise."
Boaters pay $75 a boat to participate in the event. Most of the money goes to cover the cost of insurance, river rescue and first aid, National Park Service permits and shuttling boat trailers from Green River to Moab. If enough boaters participate, there is often some money left over.
"Our goal is to increase the numbers on the cruise so we have the budget to promote river activities," Coomer said. "With enough people, we can afford to go in and mark some historical sites and promote the history of the river."
River history is something dear to the people of southeastern Utah. It has been a friend and foe to humans for centuries. A new John Wesley Powell River History Museum is in the works to share the history of the river with outsiders.
The Friendship Cruise, which will work hand-in-hand with the new museum, is also rich in history. In the 1950s, people started racing boats on the Green River. Eventually it became a marathon race to Moab and evolved into a community affair.
Those were days before rubber rafts and professional outfitters taking groups down the river. Power boats were the only way to explore the canyons.
Races are no longer held on the river. Instead, families take time to explore the river, the ruins and the geology.
"Being on the river teaches an appreciation for these things," said Coomer. "If people learn about the river, they will want to preserve the history it contains. Our goal is to make people feel good about the river."
The decline in popularity of the Friendship Cruise almost ended what has been a tradition in southeastern Utah. Coomer, a Green River restaurant owner, took the reins of the program a year ago and has pledged to restore the cruise, at least in part, to its former glory.
"If we ever miss a year, the National Park Service won't renew our permits to hold it ever again," Coomer said. "And I just didn't want to see it die."
Without the once-a-year permits, no one would be allowed to make the trip. Some of the trip passes through Canyonlands National Park, an area that restricts motorboat traffic.
The 1988 Friendship Cruise is a two-day affair (May 28 and 29), though boaters were able to take as many days on the river as they liked during the week before Memorial Day. Boaters will leave Green River and meet at Anderson Bottoms 98 miles downstream for a barbecue and dance. The next day, boaters will proceed to the confluence and back up to Moab.
Extra gasoline and ice, as well as search and rescue boats, will be available on the river throughout the event.