The Grand River Raft Race


USS Gerald R. FordA Letter from the President

In 1974, someone sent an article from the Grand Rapids Press and some photos of their raft to the President of the Unites States, Gerald R. Ford, a Grand Rapids native.  Astonishingly, the President wrote back.  And this is what he wrote:


                      November 7, 1974

Dear Mr. Kooi:

It was thoughtful of you to send me the news
article about the fifth annual raft race down
Grand River which was sponsored by Station
WLAV.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the
photos of the "USS Gerald Ford," which was
one of the entries this year.  Many thanks
for sharing with me this story about an
event which seems well on the way to becoming
a tradition in my hometown!

With warm best wishes.




And here is the content of the article from the Grand Rapids Press, Section D, from Sunday, August 11, 1974. Check out how cool and laid back the cops were back then, especially considering the fact that 99% of the people there were drunk and/or high...  Could Grand Rapids ever hope to be this chill again?  Doubtful.

A Grand Time Was Had by All

By Mart Lagerkvist

The largest aquatic outdoor beer party in the world floated down the Grand River on Saturday afternoon for the fifth year running, but city and county officials - with the help of Lady Luck - managed to prevent any serious injuries or fatalities.

The legend of the night before the raft race attracted thousands of campers and party seekers Friday night, but county officials reported no incidents.

Meanwhile, Back in the Cheering Section... "I won't even attempt to estimate last night's crowd," said Kent County Deputy Sheriff Craig Hilliberger. "What surprised us was the mood the people were in. They were really friendly."

"We had a lot of fun. I'd say these kids had a ball," said Hilliberger.

Starting at 7 a.m. Saturday, beer went on sale at several locations near the race's starting line, including the Boat and Canoe Club. The result was a gradual but continual flow of people from the beer stands to the porta-johns. The latter had the longer lines.

Regarding size, this year's raft race appeared to be smaller than the one held last year. Only 887 rafts registered for the race, compared with 1,276 in 1973, but the spirit of the entries was in the same vein.

This year's race entries included the USS Gerald ford, a 15-foot Fred Flintstone driving a stoneage car, an Army tank, a covered wagon, a floating outhouse, the playboy Club, and a manure spreader.

"This is the largest raft race so far," said Jim Ellis, advertising director for sponsor radio station WLAV. "There aren't as many rafts, but there are more spectators than there have ever been."

"Last year, the sheriff's and police departments estimated the crowd at 125,000," said Ellis. "This year I think we have more. I think there's in excess of 150,000 people."

(Aerial photographs, however, indicated that the 1974 WLAV Raft Race was less attended than the previous year's.)

Fortunately, this race seemed to be safer and better organized than any of the past.

'There's a lot more people wearing life jackets this year than last year." said a volunteer lifeguard. "I'd say that this raft race was safe and successful."

All of the injuries reported Saturday afternoon were minor and were treated efficiently by first aid stations set up by city and county law enforcement officials. Most were caused by broken glass on the river banks.

"I wish those people would put their dawgone bottles where they belong," said one county official who wished not to be identified. 



Special thanks to the kind folks at the Gerald R. Ford Library for being so helpful with this information!








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