Low river won’t sink Ducky Derby in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Low river won’t sink Ducky Derby in Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Organizers of Aspen’s annual Ducky Derby aren’t letting low flows in the Roaring Fork River sink the popular event.

Instead, they’re skipping Plan B and going right to Plan C, which means enlisting youngsters for a series of relay races on derby day instead of dumping the rubber duckies in the river and letting the winner float to the finish line.

The derby is a key fundraiser for not only the Rotary Club of Aspen, which organizes the event, but also for a host of local nonprofits that focus on youth programs.

“We think it’s a great community event whether the ducks are running in the river or the kids are running in the park with the ducks,” said Rotarian and “head duck” Chris Berry. “We want to raise money for all the groups, and we want the community to have a good time.”

This isn’t the first time the derby, now in its 21st year, has had to improvise. Kids picked ducks at random and took them through an obstacle course at Rio Grande Park in 2002, when a drought left the Roaring Fork without enough water to float the thousands of rubber duckies that typically run the course in a mass of bobbing yellow.

The park is, as usual, the site of the derby party. This year’s event takes place Aug. 11. Low flows in the adjacent river mean Plan A – run the derby in the river as usual – likely is out of the question. Plan B involved having the Salvation Ditch Co. suspend its diversion of water from the river above town, which it has indicated that it is willing to do, Berry said, but that option isn’t likely to provide sufficient water, either.

Instead, Rotarians have devised Plan C – a series of races (relays for older kids) to winnow a pile of some 30,000 rubber ducks down to perhaps 30 to 50 finalists that will go into a portable swimming pool. The pool’s contents then will be dumped down ramp, and water-propelled ducks will be funneled into a tube. The first one out nets its buyer the $10,000 grand prize.

There will also be about 10 million-dollar ducks. The club takes out an insurance policy so it can cover the prize payout should one of the ducks worth $1 million emerge as the winner, Berry explained.

Although nowhere near all of the ducks will be plucked from the starting pile by the kids participating in the races, duck selection will be random. Each duck has a number that corresponds with its buyer, but no one knows who has what number, according to Berry.

“We don’t even know who the numbers belong to. It’s all in a computer system,” he said.

More important than picking a winner in the derby is buying a duck – or lots of ducks.

Youngsters involved in various organizations sell ducks, and the participating groups keep 90 percent of their earnings from duck sales for their use. Rotarians put the proceeds from the ducks they sell, plus put the remaining 10 percent from the other sales, to the club’s own charitable causes. They include an exchange program that sends local youths to other countries for a year of study abroad. Sponsorships cover the cost of putting on the event, a roughly $65,000 expense.

“That means 100 percent of the duck sales go to philanthropic causes,” Berry said. “This is a pretty phenomenal platform that allows these groups to raise substantial money.”

The fundraiser typically puts about $90,000 in the collective hands of the organizations that help sell ducks, while the Rotary Club takes in about $120,000 to put toward its efforts, he said.

The ducks, incidentally, are rented. They will be trucked into Aspen for the derby, then washed, repacked and transported to their next engagement.

Derby day starts at 10 a.m. at the park, though the actual races begin at 2 p.m. The winner should be announced by about 3:30 p.m. Food will be available from the Hickory House, and the Bo Hale Band will perform.

Look for the Rotary Club’s Ducky Derby sales booth on the mall, across from Paradise Bakery in downtown Aspen. Ducks are $10 apiece, or three for $20, five for $30, 10 for $50 or 20 for $100.


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