Like in any other community, traditions in Green River are handed down from one generation to the next, creating a living, dynamic flow of rhythm and predictability. They remind us that we are part of a narrative that defines our past, informs who we are today, and shapes who we are likely to become. And like in other rural communities, many Green River traditions are tied to the land and celebrate the community. The following are a few traditions that occur in and around Green River.
Green River, the region’s prime melon-growing spot, is renowned as the home of the world’s best melons. Melons like sandy soil and desert climates and Green River has both in heavy supply, resulting in a happier, sweeter melon. While Green River has over 100 years of melon-growing experience starting with J.H. “Melon” Brown experimenting with his first crop, peaches were Green River’s calling card until a deep freeze in 1919 killed most of the peach trees. The farmers who stayed removed their dead trees and turned their efforts towards growing cantaloupes.
Green River has had annual celebrations of locally grown fruit since 1906. Now called “Melon Days,” the town has its annual celebration of its most famous export every third weekend of September. During this special time of year, truckloads of watermelons are cut up and given away to festival-goers courtesy of long time melon growing families, the Melon Queen is crowned, square dancers dance into the night, and Green River’s own come back to reunite with friends and family. In the recent past, at least 3,000 festival-goers have been in attendance for the Melon Days Parade and are treated to the sounds of neighboring town marching bands, the sight of creative floats made by local clubs or aspiring politicians, and a glimpse of local celebrities like the Melon Queen or the giant watermelon on wheels. The heart of the festival is the park, where one can visit concession stands and craft vendors, listen to live music, or most importantly, revel in the free watermelon slices donated by melon farmers.
“I’D DRIVE DOWN THERE TO LIE IN THE GRASS IN THE SHADE OF THE COTTONWOODS, AND EAT FREE WATERMELON ALL DAY. THERE’S SOMETHING CLEAN AND WHOLESOME ABOUT THE PARK, THE CELEBRATION, AND FAMILIES WHO ENJOY WATERMELON, SHADE, AND THE COOL GRASS.”
— Chuck Zehnder, Editor of The Sun Advocate, 1986
Mark your calendars for the third weekend of September annually and be sure to join us in celebrating the best melon in the world.
The river itself is central to how Green River was formed and defines itself. The rich history of boating is seen in the explorations of John Wesley Powell and recreational boating pioneers such as Buzz Holstrom. In the recent past, the Friendship Cruise, a boating caravan from Green River to Moab, once drew over 700 motorboats in its heyday in the late 20th century. Presently, “river runners” can be found on the river from Spring through the Fall both taking personal trips and guiding groups of visitors. River running has gone from an obscure pastime of a handful of brave explorers to a major component of the tourist industry in places like Southeastern Utah. Each year, thousands of people gravitate to this region’s wild rivers to challenge themselves in whitewater or to experience the quiet and beauty of nature unchanged. Green River has seen its share of legendary boatmen, but perhaps none are as beloved in the river running community as Buzz Holstrom.
In 1937, Holstrom, a gas station attendant from Oregon, ran over one thousand rapid-filled miles of the Green and Colorado Rivers on his own, in a small wooden boat he designed and built himself. In some ways, he ushered in the era of modern river running --not just through his superb oarsmanship or his part in evolving boat design, but in respect to the way in which he conducted his craft. Holmstrom straddled the old and new West, a man that rode the river like a bull, but had a Zen-like humility in relationship to the waterways and rapids he traversed. The reward of his great adventures, he believed, was “the doing of the thing,” the journey itself, as the Zen masters would say. Moreover, he knew what most river runners eventually learn: that the river will “never be conquered.”
Getting out of town and enjoying the desert is a part of Green River’s DNA. Locals ride all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs), dirt bikes, and horses out in the landscape. The community Trail Ride followed the journey of local mailman Cornelius Ekker, recreating his regular sixty-three mile delivery route from Green River to Hanksville during the last years of the nineteenth century. There is a rich history of hunting and fishing originally for necessity and now for sport. Today, many locals practice their shooting out at Green River’s Shooting Sports Park.