SCAN’s little yellow duckies are turning silver this year.
The organization’s annual duck race, which takes place Saturday at Johnny Appleseed Park, is marking 25 years.
The race raises money for SCAN, whose mission is to eliminate abuse and neglect of children in Allen County and 18 other northeast and north-central Indiana counties. When the race started in 1988, SCAN served 48 families, according to information from the organization. In 2012, the organization served 5,096 families.
To celebrate duck season, SCAN provided some fun facts about the history of the little ducks’ annual river voyage.
The duck race is SCAN’s biggest fundraiser and because of significant financial support from Weigand Construction, the race was named the Weigand Construction Duck Race to Benefit SCAN.
The first year of the race, rubber ducks were used and placed in boxes, which board members dropped them out of into the river. The ducks are now plastic.
Today’s race lasts about 20 minutes.
More than 17,000 ducks are expected to be part of the race this year. Before they are put into the river, each duck has to have a number placed by volunteers who spend hours numbering in a process that starts several weeks before race day. After the race, the ducks are collected and cleaned.
In 2011, St. Joe River levels were so high that the ducks floated over the hoses placed at the finish line to collect them. SCAN asked citizens to go on duck hunts to find the plastic ducks that floated down the river. The duck hunt competition gained national and international attention, and articles appeared in published media outlets as far away as Hawaii.
The Fort Wayne Fire Department has played an important role in the duck race for 20 years. The duck race also partners with the city of Fort Wayne and the water department.
How it works
After the ducks are numbered according to purchased tickets, they are gathered in bins and baskets and taken by truck to Johnny Appleseed Park the morning of the race. The ducks are unloaded into a massive blue tarp. The water department opens the dam for a few minutes to increase the water current, then closes it so the ducks won’t float away.
The ducks are contained in the river by separated fire hoses attached to a hinged Y-shaped wood frame. The ducks float into the largest part of the Y. At the narrowest part, there is room for only one duck at a time to flow through. The first duck into the channel is the winner. It is plucked out by a pre-approved SCAN race operator who puts the ducks into bags numbered according to the order they finished.
The first 25 ducks through the channel win prizes. The first three prizes are cash, including $5,000 for the first-place winner.
A donation of $250 or more makes you a Duck Dignitary, a race sponsor. In early years, each Duck Dignitary received a top hat with a duck perched on top. Now, they get their names on signs at the race.
Not all the races over the years have gone off without a hitch. Races are dependent on the river’s current; because of that, sometimes creative efforts have to be made to get the ducks down the river.
The third year of the race, there was no current so boats used their motors to get a current going.
Last year, river levels were low because of the lack of rain so large industrial fans were placed along the river to help the ducks float toward the finish line.