The Duck Derby is easily one of the most fun, silly and Winters-esque of town traditions. Taking place on the eve of Youth Day for many years, this fundraiser is making its post-pandemic return so the fun can continue.
About a decade ago, the Youth Day committee was brainstorming ways to generate more funds in the wake of abandoning the golf tournament they used to put on. Committee member and Duck Derby co-founder Kathy Cowan doesn’t recall exactly who suggested they put on duck races, but plastic ducks were purchased shortly thereafter and it was off to the creek to test them out.
“We soon realized we needed bigger, rubber ducks, but we just picked it up and ran with it from there. I remember the first batch of ducks we bought about 250 and we just didn’t know how it was going to go,” Cowan explained. “We rigged up a finish line and had towns people with rakes keeping the ducks off the bank. I also remember wanting it to be fair for everybody and was worried people would pull ducks out of the creek, but nobody did. I remember turning around and seeing little kids and families running down the creek side laughing and screaming. I almost cried — it was the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.”
Essentially, how the Duck Derby works is people buy a duck with a number on it. Next, the ducks are dumped in the creek on Friday evening, and the race ensues. Finally, the winning ducks are collected, the people corresponding to the numbers are awarded cash prizes and Youth Day gets the funds it needs to happen every year. Since then, the Duck Derby has only grown in size and legitimacy.
“More ducks were being sold over the years. Now, we have people in kayaks wrangling them so we don’t leave any in the creek after we’re done. We also have hotdogs, water and chips for everybody at the Community Center before the race — and cookies, too,” Cowan said detailing the Duck Derby’s evolution since its inception. “Now, any kid that buys a duck gets a free raffle ticket. Our raffle prizes are simple — like a big rubber duck for the pool and other stuff like that. And after the second year, we’ll pull the last duck out of the creek, we match that number to a name and they get a dozen ducks for next year’s race.”
As it turns out, inflation hasn’t impacted duck purchasing prices. According to Cowan, one duck is $10, a family ‘Quack Pack’ is six ducks for $50 and a flock of ducks is 12 ducks for $100. With prices that don’t sink participation, it’s no wonder the Duck Derby has been so successful over the years.
“It has been our biggest fundraiser to keep Youth Day going. When we started, Youth Day didn’t have any money. Then we pulled off the first Duck Derby, paid for everything and banked about $4,000,” said Cowan. “The next year we did the same thing, pulled it off and banked $9,000 or $10,000 and it just grew since.”
Besides earning money for Youth Day, the real joy Cowan gets out of this event is seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter of the children and families who participate. Adding to the excitement are the cash prizes, with first place winning $500, second winning $300 and third banking $200.
To participate in the 7th annual Duck Derby, all one needs to do is scan the QR code posted around town and on social media, or visit www.wintersyouthday.com and click on the “Duck Derby” tab to let the feathers fly.
New duck fun
Youth Day festivities were put on hold in 2020, and again in 2021 due to the COVID pandemic. This included the Duck Derby. This was the first time Youth Day had been put on hold since WWII. In 2021, the Express tapped into the spirit of the Duck Derby by hosting a downtown Winters duck scavenger hunt.
Families walked down Main Street searching for hidden rubber ducks. Although the official Duck Derby is back on this year, the downtown duck hunt is being hosted again so younger children can still have some duck fun.