Ducks have been the epicenter of Aspen’s Ducky Derby Festival for more than 20 years. But this year, the ducks will be rivaled by new competitors: a Skateboard Jam, a beer garden and music by a local celebrity DJ. The Ducky Derby is the Aspen Rotary Club’s sole fundraiser and is the largest for many nonprofits in the Roaring Fork Valley.
This year’s Ducky Derby Day is Saturday, when 33,000 rubber duckies will race down the Roaring Fork River. In addition, for the first year, 20 competitive skateboarders from around the state will be competing in front of TV host and X Games commentator Othello Clark and color commentator Travis McLain, from event sponsor Radio Boardshop.
The Skateboard Jam’s preliminary heats begin at 11 a.m. Semifinals and finals will follow lunch, which will start at 11:30 a.m. and will be offered by Green Cuisine Catering. Aspen Brewing Co. also will open the beer garden. DJ Dylan Regan will provide the musical backdrop for the event.
“The skateboard event and the beer garden are new features that we hope will make Ducky Derby Day more attractive for teenagers, parents and anyone who would like to spend a fun day at Rio Grande Park,” said Maurice Emmer, the “head duck” Rotarian in charge of this year’s event.
At 2:13 p.m. sharp, the ducks will be released into the river at No Problem Bridge and race down to the pedestrian crossing past the Mill Street Bridge, where the finish-line judges — Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Aspen Music Festival CEO Alan Fletcher — will supervise the capture of the winning ducks around 3 p.m. and announce the winners around 4 p.m.. The first prize is $10,000; there are nine other prizes, as well. There are also about 10 “lucky ducks” in the race. If one of them comes in first, the winner will receive $1 million.
This year, the number of ducks raced will set a new record and make the Aspen Ducky Derby one of the largest races in the country.
“Those 33,000 ducks exceed the loading volume of the truck that drives them to the river,” said deputy head duck Craig Melville, who is also a volunteer firefighter. “So this year we are adding sidings to hold them.”
The Ducky Derby serves three purposes: raising money for the Roaring Fork Valley youth groups, providing a vibrant community event and raising money for Aspen Rotary Club’s own charitable projects in this valley and worldwide.
“It started 21 years ago as a Rotary fundraiser, but now it is the most important fundraising platform for groups in and beyond Aspen,” said Susan Gomes, who has helped organize and run the event for many years.
The expenses for the event are covered by sponsors, so 100 percent of the revenue from duck adoptions goes straight to the charitable causes. The money is raised when individuals “adopt” ducks to float in the race. Rotarians are offering “adoption papers” at the Ducky Derby tent at the Cooper Avenue mall near Paradise Bakery. Duck adoptions cost between $5 (for a Quack Pack of 20 ducks) and $10 (for one duck). The tent will be staffed by Rotarians daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Ducky Derby Day on Saturday.
In case you’ve been wondering, the rubber-ducky parade down the Roaring Fork River always has been compatible with the fish and other aquatic life. The race has been given the go-ahead by the local organization that focuses on the health and future of the watershed of the Roaring Fork River. The Roaring Fork Conservancy’s executive director, Rick Lofaro, said, “It is OK as long as you pick up all the ducks after the race.” That’s exactly what dozens of Aspen Rotarians do. They scoop them out of the river as the duckies reach the nets that prevent them from escaping.