In a place teeming with thousands of plastic ducks Saturday morning, Mark Kohlhorst of Auburn was drawing young onlookers with two real ducks.
Owner of Mark's Ark, Kohlhorst brought the animal quackers to the 33rd annual Weigand Construction Duck Race fundraiser for Stop Childhood Abuse and Neglect at Promenade Park.
Some kids were brave enough to crawl into the enclosure with the two ducks, who seemed inseparable, though they were different species. One was a fat and fluffy white jumbo Pekin duck while the other was a skinny long-necked Indian runner with the unusual trait of walking erect like a penguin instead of waddling.
Others backed away from the birds' long bills as they waited for the plastic ducks to take their swim in the St. Marys River.
At noon, a huge blue tarp roped to a construction crane dropped the roughly 18,000 brightly colored plastic ducks into the river in front of Wells Street's old iron bridge. They floated lazily to the finish line, a thick yellow rope a few dozen yards away.
The ducks had been bought for $5 each – or five for $20 – by people who lined the step-like seating at Promenade Park to watch.
Shannon Rodgers of Fort Wayne and her sister Stephanie Wambaugh, visiting from Michigan with her daughters Lena, 5, and Kenzie, 3, cheered on their duck, though they didn't expect it to win. Maddy Rodgers, 13, also watched with the group.
“That didn't even cross our mind,” Shannon Rodgers said.
But the families did enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere for children. Kids could play in a bouncy house, try hitting floating whiffle balls into a target and race plastic ducks tinier than those destined for the river down water-filled raceways made of plastic pipes cut in half.
Many children splashed in the park's water features and played pingpong, cornhole and giant-sized Jenga.
Whitney Craig, SCAN's marketing and communications director, said the event raised $225,000, although much of that was through donations other than duck purchases.
“We're right at our goal, thanks to sponsors,” she said, adding the event was being held in Promenade Park, which opened in 2019, for the first time. “The city invited us to use it,” she said.
Kohlhorst said it was a coincidence that he brought the two real ducks along with his menagerie, which included a rabbit, a snake and a lizard known as an Indonesian skink.
“It was really done unintentionally,” he said. “I just like showing ducks. They're really popular when I do events,” he said, adding, “A lot of kids today have no contact with animals at all.”
Elyse Todd, 9, of Fort Wayne was one of dozens of children captivated by one of the real ducks before the plastic ducks raced.
“I was trying to pet it, but it kept going away,” she said.
The buyer of the winning duck – John Crawford – won $5,000. Craig could not provide Crawford's hometown Saturday afternoon.
Twenty-five other ducks also won prizes, but no one matched the number drawn in a $1 million lottery, she said.