Something’s afowl in Aspen Saturday |

Something’s afowl in Aspen Saturday

Hannah Goulding
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Thomas O'Brian/Special to The Aspen TimesThousands of rubber ducks will invade the Roaring Fork River on Saturday

ASPEN – For the 18th consecutive year, a sea of rubber ducks will invade the Roaring Fork River in Aspen on Saturday for a quirky event that has evolved into a town tradition.

The Aspen Rotary Ducky Derby started as just another fundraiser, with co-Head Ducks Skip Behrhorst and Jack Reece orchestrating the fledgling event with a thick, overly detailed nationwide Ducky Derby manual as their only aid. Avoiding the manual, the head ducks used the avian instinct and, well, “winged it.”

“Every morning, we would meet at the Weinerstube and ask each other, ‘Now what do we do?’ We had no clue,” Behrhorst said.

Nevertheless, the inaugural event was a booming success; the club had a goal for a few thousand ducks and exceeded it almost tenfold with 18,000 ducks floating down the river. The sales were so successful – supporters “adopt” ducks for a nominal sum (and a chance at a grand prize), and the club donates the proceeds to a variety of charitable causes – that they had to “call in for backup from the duck air force” in Idaho and collect more ducks.

“It was crazy,” Behrhorst said. “I don’t know how we pulled it off, but it turned out exactly how I wanted it to be – a fun, exciting and communal event.”

Which holds true today. People throughout the community participate in the event, from the store manager who tells coworkers about his son’s ducks to the locals and tourists who buy ducks outside City Market – the Ducky Derby shapes and reflects Aspen’s communal character.

“It’s an opportunity to build Aspen’s legacy as a guest-friendly place,” said Bennett Bramson, a past annual top duck-seller. “You come to Aspen and have a great time and get to know all these great people.”

Ducky Derby has raised more than $2 million over the years, supporting local nonprofits that do everything from youth sports to education to health services. But it also supports international causes, including providing textbooks to classrooms in Guatemala that had none.

“We didn’t think it would be near as successful as it was, but it was because the community embraced it so much,” Behrhorst said.

Other communities have held ducky derbies that have lasted for a few years, but Aspen is one of a few that has established an annual tradition. Boosters attribute the event’s staying power to its upbeat, family style energy.

“It’s always a fun event, and people line the river and watch the ducks, a kooky, crazy kind of thing that people embrace in the community; fun for all the kids that go and for the family,” Bramson said.

His well-practiced sales pitch reflects the spirit of the event.

“You girls look like a million bucks,” he crowed last week, while selling ducks in Aspen. “But an extra million in your pocket couldn’t hurt!”

The title sponsor for the 2009 Ducky Derby is Two Old Hippies, which happens to be selling hippie ducks. Ducks can be purchased by visiting or calling Michael Fox at 948-8558.

The 2009 Ducky Derby Festival, which starts at 10:30 a.m. in Rio Grande Park, will offer a silent auction, games and bounce-houses for kids. There will be live music from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as a barbecue lunch. The duck race starts at 2:09 p.m. from No Problem Bridge and finishes under the Mill Street Bridge. Winners will be announced at 4 p.m.

Contact Naomi Havlen at 379-5011 or e-mail for more information.

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