Duck, Duck, Go: Summit Foundation’s biggest fun-raiser of year takes plunge Saturday
Great Rubber Duck Race
The Summit Foundation’s biggest fundraiser of the year features three races from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday. The schedule of events is as follows:
10 a.m. — Free children’s activities open
1 p.m. — Hudson Auto Source Kids Duck Dash
2 p.m. — Kaiser Permanente Business Battle Race
3 p.m. — Breckenridge Grand Vacations Great Rubber Duck Race ($3,000 grand prize)
The 30th Great Rubber Duck Race will paint the Blue River yellow Saturday as one of Summit County’s longest-running, best-attended and most fun fundraisers of the year waddles its way into downtown Breckenridge.
For the races — three total — about 6,000 people will watch as 12,000 rubber duckies are released into the river. The event is put on by The Summit Foundation in its mission to aid working families and improve the quality of life for Summit County’s residents and visitors alike.
The day of ducks kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday with free, festival-style family entertainment in the Blue River Plaza downtown. The races begin three hours later with the main event going last.
For the big race, the ducks will start off in Maggie Pond, corralled by what the foundation’s manager of events and marketing Elisabeth Lawrence likes to call “a high-tech holding pen.”
“It’s basically glorified noodles,” she said of an apparatus that functions much like booms containing an oil spill. “All the ducks are in there, and they’re put in there equitably.”
A large truck pours the ducks in, Lawrence explained, and a handful of the more than 200 volunteers who make the races possible stir up the duckies to ensure fairness.
“We own 15,000 ducks,” Lawrence said of the foundation’s inventory. “We haven’t ever put them all in. Maybe one year, we’re hoping.”
A single duck for the main race costs $5, but duck sponsors can save bills by purchasing a “six quack” for $25. Beyond that, the foundation offers other incentive packages, such as a baker’s dozen for $50 and its “Golden Flock” of 26 ducks for $100.
Each duck is numbered and weighted at the bottom so they stay mostly upright. Once released, the ducks putter their way out of the pond before spilling over a small waterfall and taking off downriver.
“There they go,” Lawrence said as she flipped through some photographs from last year’s races. “Some of them kind of look scared, right? I always love to look at those little eyes.”
Some years, it’s a fast trip to the finish line; others, not so much. On average, the main race spans about 15 minutes, but the length varies depending on the river’s flow. Regardless how long it takes, the lucky duck who crosses the finish line first will be worth $3,000, a nice round number for a grand prize honoring the foundation’s 30th running of the ducks.
“It’s one of the oldest duck races in the country, and it’s a pretty large one, as well,” Lawrence said, adding there are “lots of people who try to copy it” across the country, but few, if any, who ever come close to truly duplicating it.
Before the main event, two specialty races will run the river, starting with a children’s race at 1 p.m., followed by a race for “business ducks” at 2 p.m.
Perhaps it’s because the business ducks fly first class. Maybe it’s a product of their limited numbers — which pretty squarely land them in the top 10 percent. Whatever the reason, the ducks designated for local businesses to buy come with a $100 price tag each, making them by far the most expensive The Summit Foundation has to offer.
Before the business race, however, the children’s duck race will take place at the Adams Street Bridge, and it comes with an 850-duck limit. There’s little doubt the children’s ducks all will be claimed by the time the race beings, but Lawrence said they still have some available and will hold some back for the day of the race.
Adding to the excitement, a team from the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District also has an important role to play, as a couple of its crewmembers will take positions high up in a crane so they can dump the children’s ducks from 50-gallon plastic barrels into the river.
“You can see it is literally raining ducks down in the river,” Lawrence said as she brought up a photo of the great duck dump. “Our firefighters … they love it. I think they fight over who gets that job because it is really fun.”
Unlike the other two races, children will get to keep their ducks at the conclusion of the event.
After the races, volunteers will painstakingly sort all the ducks by number and put them back into their corresponding cases. The ducks will go into storage, where they shall stay under lock and key — Lawrence calls it “training” — until next year’s races.
While fun and games are a hallmark of the duck races, a picture in Lawrence’s office underscores why the foundation keeps putting on the longstanding event.
Last year, the duck races raised $135,000 in support of the foundation’s grants program, which awarded more than $2.5 million total to over 100 local nonprofits. In addition to the grants, the foundation also awards numerous scholarships to local students, and in Lawrence’s office, among the many tributes to races past, hangs a canvas photograph of the ducks given to her in 2012.
The young man who took it, she said, was one of the local students who earned a foundation scholarship, and interested in photography, he asked if he could shoot the event that year. Now out of school, the young man turned in a set of photos of the duck races, Lawrence said, that remain some of the best she has ever seen.
For more about the Great Rubber Duck Race or to buy ducks, go to SummitFoundation.org/events/great-rubber-duck-race.
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