Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ducks need to be prepped for the big race

Buy ducks, give bucks to Blaine County Search and Rescue

Express Staff Writer

These Blaine County Search and Rescue volunteers look like they’re peeling oranges, but what they’re really doing is prepping rubber ducks for the Great Wagon Days Duck Race. Photo by David N. Seelig

It's not like the ducks arrive in Blaine County in the back of a dump truck and then just get dumped into the Big Wood River for the Great Wagon Days Duck Race. The rubber critters need to be prepped before the big event.

Members of Blaine County Search and Rescue, a beneficiary of the fundraiser, spent several evenings this month preparing thousands of ducks for the race. These are veteran race ducks, having competed in races throughout the United States. They come to Blaine County through a $7,500 duck rental agreement with Great American Merchandise & Events in Scottsdale, Ariz., a company commonly referred to as GAME.

GAME shipped the ducks to the Blaine County Public Safety Facility in 96 blue plastic shipping containers. They were stacked on pallets on the south side of the building until the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 24, when Search and Rescue volunteers started opening the containers to get the ducks ready for the race.

Each duck needs to be hand inspected to make sure it still has a metal weight in the bottom that keeps it upright in water and to make sure it's not damaged. A few ducks have missing heads or other body damage. For some ducks, their racing days are over and they get dumped into a discard box.

But most time consuming of all is peeling labels off each duck from races elsewhere so that new numbered labels for The Great Wagon Days Duck Race can be affixed. Some older labels come off easily. Others need to be whittled away with a pocketknife.

The next step is to affix the new labels, the numbers of which are computer matched to duck adoption papers that the public buys to support the fundraiser.

"All I know is it's 15,000 total," said Ben Varner, a Search and Rescue volunteer and co-chair for the duck race. "We clean them up on one night and put the labels on another night, so it's a two- or three-day process depending on how many people show up."

This will be the 15th year for the duck race. It's set to start at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 4, at Rotary Park on Warm Springs Road in Ketchum. The ducks, now prepped for the race, get loaded into the back of a dump truck that unceremoniously dumps them into the river. Downstream is the finish line. The first 13 finishers get pulled from the river, their numbers are recorded and prize winners are determined from the numbers on adoption papers.

Prizes are listed on adoption paper forms and include a Sun Valley season ski pass, vacation packages, wine packages and dining packages.

Ducks can be adopted for $5 each, six for $25 or 13 for $50. Adoption papers are available at Atkinsons' Market, D.L. Evans Bank and the Idaho Mountain Express in Ketchum or at Towne and Parke Jewelers in Sun Valley. They can also be obtained from any Ketchum-Sun Valley Rotarian, Search and Rescue volunteer or member of the Sun Valley Board of Realtors Community Foundation Board.

The event generated $87,000 last year, bringing the amount to nearly $1 million raised in 14 races.

Proceeds are used to help fund Search and Rescue and other nonprofit organizations in the Wood River Valley and for student scholarships and annual holiday food baskets.

Terry Smith:

Duck Race

The 15th Great Wagon Days Duck Race is set to start at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 4, at Rotary Park on Warm Springs Road in Ketchum. The public is invited to join the party and watch 15,000 plastic ducks float down the Big Wood River.

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