Aspen Rotary Club looking for ‘plan B’ to Ducky Derby because of low river levels |

Aspen Rotary Club looking for ‘plan B’ to Ducky Derby because of low river levels

The Aspen Rotary Club is looking at plan-B options if there is not enough water in the Roaring Fork River to host the annual Ducky Derby on Aug. 11.
Thomas O’Brian / Aspen Times flie

The Rotary Club of Aspen may be up the river with no ducks next month when it holds its 27th annual Ducky Derby.

Head Duck Mike Connolly said the Rotary has formed a “plan B committee” in the event there is not enough water on Aug. 11 to race 30,000 ducks on the Roaring Fork River between Herron and Rio Grande parks.

In the coming weeks, the committee will come up with alternatives to the traditional duck race while watching river levels.

Connolly said in the early 2000s there was not enough water to race the ducks in the river so a “duck toss” on land was the alternative.

He said he’s hoping for the monsoons to arrive, which could bring up river levels enough to carry out a traditional Ducky Derby.

“I’ve been asking people for a rain dance,” he said.

Liza Mitchell, education outreach coordinator for the Roaring Fork Conservancy, said it would have to rain a tremendous amount for the river to rise to any significant level. Monsoons typically saturate ground water.

She said Tuesday that the stretch of river between the two parks was running at 62.3 cubic feet per second (cfs). The mean for July 3 is 287 cfs.

In 2002, when there was a drought in the upper valley, the Roaring Fork was running at around 35 cfs in mid-August. In 2012, another drought year, that stretch of river was about 52 cfs for the same time period, according to Mitchell.

“I don’t see us maintaining 60 (cfs) in August,” she said, adding the Rotary Club is just one of many organizations and entities dealing with this year’s drought. “A lot of us in the water world, we are coming up with various (plan B’s).”

Connolly said the plan B committee will consider its options in the coming weeks. So far, a couple of ideas have been floated, like using 20,000 fewer ducks and putting more numbers on the bottom of them and then have the winning combos color coded. Another option is a Bingo-style “duck pluck” on land.

In the traditional derby, donors are asked to “adopt a duck” for $10 apiece and if their associated number — which is affixed to the bottom of the plastic duck — reaches the finish line first, they win $10,000, or a special lucky duck worth $1 million.

“That way everyone would still have a duck in the race,” Connolly said. “We haven’t locked in a plan B yet, but I would like to have one in place.”

Margaret Medellin, the utilities portfolio manager for the city of Aspen, said the Rotary might not need a plan B. There are a few non-diversionary agreements in play and other efforts related to complicated water rights that could keep the flow of water in the Roaring Fork River going.

Water could be released in the coming weeks from the Wheeler or Salvation ditches, or from Grizzly Reservoir, for environmental purposes.

“There’s a host of things we are doing to keep water in the river,” Medellin said. “Hopefully we have more options this year than in 2012.”

Ducky Derby is the principal annual fundraiser of the Aspen Rotary. Connolly said this year’s fundraising goal is $300,000. The money goes toward youth groups, educational scholarships, nonprofit grants and Rotary International causes.

“The majority stays in the Roaring Fork Valley,” he said.

Headquarters for the Aug. 11 event will still be at Rio Grande Park, where there will be activities all day, including a silent auction, youth games and booths, an invitational skateboard jam and a food court and beer garden.


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