Celebrating The 20th Annual Duck Race
By: Kris Hazelton
(with some help from Don Widrig and Nicky Kane)
The Duck Race is celebrating its 20th year in Estes Park. The fun all started in 1989.
It all started with four businessmen in town, Stan Pratt, Nick Kane, Mike McDonald, and Steve Nagl who were at the Crags Lodge at a Chamber of Commerce After Hours event. The four men were discussing ways they could help the various non-profit organizations in town raise money. They also spoke of their desire to help the town extend the “shoulder season” in Estes so that the merchants could all have a better business season.
Stan mentioned that he had seen a neat duck race up in Oregon and it seemed like it was a lot of fun and a good way to bring the tourists to town for a festival. Not only that, it seemed like a good way to raise money for the charitable organizations in town. The idea seemed like a natural winner.
Mike stated, “Well, we’ve got a river that runs right through the main part of town.” Nick chimed in with, “We could start the race at my restaurant.” And Steve added, “The finish line could be at my place, The Wheel Bar.”
And, that’s how the Duck Race started.
Since nobody had ever run a Duck Race on Fall River before, the men had to figure out all of the logistics and they had to do it in a hurry. The organizers got a batch of little plastic ducks and tested them to see how they would make it down the river. On their first test, they started at Nicky’s Restaurant (where the starting line was to be set up) and dumped 15 ducks into the river as a test. Only six of them made it to the finish line down near the Wheel Bar. Nine of them got lost in the rocks and bushes. Obviously, this would never do!
The men then enlisted the aid of the Boy Scouts who volunteered to stand along the riverbank and guide the little ducks safely to the finish line. That worked great!
The race organizers then wanted to make the race interesting and encourage people to buy tickets for the race. So, they canvassed the merchants in town and got the merchants to donate prizes for the race. The first year, merchants donated 57 prizes including a grand prize of a trip to Hawaii!
Mike McDonald, Nicky Kane, Steve Nagl and Stan Pratt miraculously whipped the whole thing together and were ready for the first annual duck race in only 30 days!
At the race, everyone had a great time. An amazing $15,000 was raised for the Quota Club ambulance fund, the Estes Park Volunteer Fire Department, the Elizabeth Guild, the American Red Cross, and several other charities. Everyone agreed that it was a fun time and they wanted to have another race next year. Needless to say, an Estes Park tradition was born!
After seven years of running the race, the event grew so large, the original organizers realized they needed more help. Mike McDonald was in the Noon Rotary Club at the time and suggested that the Rotary Club might take over organizing and planning this event. They did and have been running the event ever since, along with the help of the Nagl family and Nick Kane, where the race begins and ends.
Each year, the Duck Race has grown and expanded, more activities are added, more charitible organizations ask and are accepted to be on the adoption forms so they too can make some money for their various organizations. Its a great way for all local charities to raise funds for their cause.
Each year, local businesses are ever so generous and donate from the heart. In this 20th year, there are more prizes than ever!
This year, “Big Duck” Gary Hazelton had the idea to have the four original organizers, or members of their families, pull the rope to release the ducks into the Fall River at Nicky’s this year.
This will make the 20th annual event even more fun for all who come down to watch the preliminaries with the ducks dropping at 1:00 p.m.
See you at the now historic, Duck Race!