Big Duck

Rotarian Bennett Bramson explains the 27th annual Ducky Derby to a potential customer on Wednesday. Low flows in the Roaring Fork River have prompted some adaptations to this year’s event, which is set for Aug. 11.

Despite record low flows in the Roaring Fork River, Aspen’s Ducky Derby is on for Saturday, albeit with some alterations that won’t be readily seen by the public.

According to Aspen Rotarian Craig Melville, the event will be buoyed by two adaptations. The first is the short-term addition of higher flows in the Roaring Fork River, due to one upstream water user temporarily forgoing his right to divert from the Salvation Ditch. Melville did not identify the donor’s name.

The second change to the race, which is the club’s primary fundraiser for the year, will likely see a reduced number of ducks actually placed in the river in Herron Park at the No Problem Bridge put-in beginning at 2:18 p.m. Associated activities, including live music, a skateboard jam, bounce house and beer garden, begin at 10:30 a.m. in Rio Grande Park.

The duck reduction would be made through a computer program and done randomly. 

“We want to make sure everything is fair to everybody who bought a ticket,” said Melville, who was a former “head duck” for the derby that’s now in its 27th year. He went on to explain that the chosen race ducks would “not be sequential. Somebody who bought 20 ducks, it wouldn’t be all in or all out.”

About 10,000 ducks, rather than a maximum of 30,000 ducks, would then float the river from the Herron Park start to near the old Aspen Art Museum, he said. “It wouldn’t change the odds. You’d still buy a duck and have one chance in 30,000 of winning.”

The Rotarians contemplated other ideas to make up for the low flows. Those included putting the ducks in a cement mixer, like in a lottery. Another idea was assigning three bar coded-numbers (rather than one) rather than one. 

The members have waited until this week to make the final decision, hoping that July and August storms could bring more water to the river. Last weekend’s rains were hopeful but not impactful.

This year, additional helpers will be used to move the plastic ducks down the river, according to head duck Mike Connolly.

“We’ve got more people on the river crew, including more high school athletes,” Connolly said. Melville said the majority of the Aspen High School football team was expected to help with the river effort.

There are still ducks for sale from Rotarians, who will be working at the large duck near Galena Street and Cooper Avenue until Friday night. That is, unless all 30,000 ducks have already been “adopted” prior to then, Connolly said. Single duck adoptions cost $10 with multi-duck packages available.

In 2017, the event was a sell out and despite the low water, the benefit is expected to draw a comparable number of spectators and attendees this year.

Top prize is $10,000 in cash and at least 10 other substantial prizes will be awarded. There is also an outside chance at a $1 million first prize, due to a special “lucky duck” formula. 

Madeleine Osberger is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at or on Twitter @Madski99