The Summit Foundation hosts 34th annual Great Rubber Duck Race |

The Summit Foundation hosts 34th annual Great Rubber Duck Race

After a virtual version of the event last year, the annual fundraiser was in full force over Labor Day weekend

Spectators watch thousands of rubber ducks float down the Blue River in Breckenridge on Saturday, Sept. 4. The ducks are part of the Great Rubber Duck Race held by The Summit Foundation.
Jenna deJong/Summit Daily News

The Summit Foundation has been Summit County’s biggest cheerleader since the 1980s. Since then, it’s distributed more than $45 million in grants to nonprofits and scholarships to students, and some of that money was collected from the annual Great Rubber Duck Race, a community staple event that’s been around for 34 years.

The organization hosted the event virtually last year, but Executive Director Jeanne Bistranin and Events and Marketing Manager Brian Balok agreed it didn’t make as big of a splash as normal years. Balok said the event usually draws a big crowd due to its tradition but also because it’s a way to give back.

“People really enjoy it,” Balok said. “It’s over Labor Day weekend, as well, so they have some time to come out and check it out. It’s mostly for the tradition and also because they know it’s helping the community. This is our largest fundraiser for the year, so we’re really excited to get out here.”

The day kicked off Saturday, Sept. 4, with a race for children ages 12 and younger. Ducks cost $10. The next race was a “business battle” where local companies purchased a duck for $100. The last race, and the grand finale, was the Great Duck Race. Ducks cost $5, and the winner received a $1,500 grand prize.

The races are no joke, either. Balok said the kids race usually gets about 400 to 700 rubber ducks, the business battle gets 300 to 400 and the Great Race gets around 10,000. The ducks are released in Maggie Pond in Breckenridge, where they float down the Blue River along the Blue River Plaza. To help the ducks on their journey, volunteers paddleboard or wade in the shallow river to assist those that get stuck or are slow going.

Winners of each race received various prizes from local businesses, one of which was a VIP snow cat tour at Keystone Resort. Other prizes included ski passes and gift certificates for restaurants and spas.

This year, Bistranin said the organization sold more than 10,000 ducks for the Great Race, 861 ducks for the kids race and 260 business battle ducks. In total, the organization raised more than $140,000.

With prizes like these, and the anticipation of watching 10,000 rubber ducks float down the river, it’s no wonder this is the organization’s largest event of the year. Bistranin said this particular event usually rakes in around $150,000, sometimes more. Other sources of funding for the community foundation come from its ski medallion program, which Bistranin said accounts for about 40% of the organization’s total funding. It also gets donations from 3,600 donors, 26 businesses and other events like its annual golf tournament.

Through all of these funding streams, the organization is able to support many different causes in the community, such as arts and culture, health and human services, youth development and environmental causes. In addition to supporting Summit County, the foundation even lends support to Fairplay, Kremmling and Leadville, where many Summit County workers live.

Out of all of these causes, Bistranin said the organization is a leader in supporting education and working families, but in the past year, it’s been especially focused on pandemic relief efforts.

“In the past year and a half, we’ve been laser-focused on COVID relief,” Bistranin said. “We had our Summit County Cares fund that provided for basic COVID-relief needs, and that was $850,000 that the community donated to us and that we gave right back out to the nonprofits in the community. That supported basic needs like food, mental health, child care and anything that people needed.”

In addition to this fund, the organization also offered an additional round of grants for all of its nonprofits, amounting to another $700,000.

According to The Summit Foundation’s annual report for 2020, the organization gave out more than $4.5 million to the community. From this, 74 nonprofits received grants.

Balok said it’s this level of support that makes The Summit Foundation a critical component of the community.

“We make a big impact in the community. Whatever we do, we’re always focused on supporting all the different aspects of the community, whether it’s front-line workers, the (Family & Intercultural Resource Center), updating trails … we cover it all.”

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