Quack quack: Annual Vail Rotary Club Duck Race returns to Gore Creek with money on the line

By Graham Danzoll
Vail Rotary Club
Gore Creek will turn into a sea of yellow ducks as the annual Vail Rotary Rubber Duck Race takes place on Labor Day.
Daily file photo

You know the high-frequency buzz of summertime has reached its crescendo when small but significant markers begin to appear around the Vail Valley; that growing bright patch of yellow in an aspen grove catching your eye, the autumn-like chill greeting you in the morning time, the sight of school buses signaling that yet another school year has begun. But wait, it’s not over yet. 

On Sunday, Sept. 1, at 3 p.m., Vail Rotary Club’s Duck Race returns to Vail Village as it has every Labor Day weekend for the past 22 years. It’s the exclamation point to a storybook summer for the Rotary Club. It’s also a bonanza of colors, smiles and prizes as more than 12,000 little yellow rubber duckies float down Gore Creek starting at the Covered Bridge and racing to the finish line at International Bridge while thousands of spectators cheer them on with amusement, anticipation and hope … hope that one of their little yellow duckies crosses the finish line in first place. 

This year the grand prize is $5,000 in cash and there’s even a chance to win $1 million for that really lucky duck. It’s all in good fun but it is also serious fun since the Duck Race is the major mechanism for the Vail Rotary Club to fund local exchange programs and scholarships as well as important local and international service programs.

 The Vail Rotary Club could not put on the race each year without support from its volunteer members, event sponsors and nonprofit partners. Engels & Volkers is returning as the presenting sponsor for the third year in a row. Fundraising is also supported by contributions and duck sales from Edwards Rotary and the Western Eagle Valley Rotary Club, plus other nonprofit organizations like Caregiver Connections, Golden Eagle Senior Site Council, Family Learning Center, Vail Friends of Dance, Vail Valley Soccer Club and the Salvation Army. 

The annual Vail Rotary Duck Race returns to Gore Creek on Sunday, Sept. 1. Volunteers are selling ducks at the Vail City Market, Village Market and at the Vail Farmers’ Market & Art Show.
Justin McCarty | Daily file photo |

This time of year is a busy time for the Vail Rotary Club. Not only is the race approaching, but it’s also a time of transition. At a recent “changing of the guard party” for incoming Vail Rotary President Penny Wilson, Rotarians were mingling with ease, discussing their summer adventures and catching up on club business. Party hostess Liz Keay and Wilson gave speeches formally recognizing longtime member Susan Pollard with a certificate honoring her for her many contributions to the club over the years; including organizing Rotary highway clean-ups each spring on Vail Pass, raising funds to build Julia’s Deck on Shrine Pass, creating initiatives for water testing through the Eagle River Watershed Council and also for her tireless work over the years on the shorelines catching those ducks at the finish line. Pollard’s work is exceptional, even among a group as dedicated and accomplished as this one.

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Wilson showed her gratitude to outgoing President Chris Aubel, thanking him for his work bringing the 48 members of the club through another successful year and sketching out plans to focus on issues facing the community. 

“I was shocked to learn how much food insecurity there really is in our valley and want to work with food pantries on this problem. Also, we want to look at the challenge of supporting our aging population,” she said.  

Tackling larger issues and collaborating with other organizations toward solutions is part of the club’s character.

Over the 49 years the Vail Rotary Club has been in existence, it has been responsible for helping to grow the community through funding the Vail Hospital in its infancy, building bus shelters from Vail to Avon, helping to seed the successful Vail Valley Cares Thrifty shops, providing hundreds of scholarships to local students and so much more. Wilson said the duck race is a good extension of this “can-do” spirit. 

“Yes, the race raises money for these projects but the community has embraced it,” Wilson said. “It’s been over 20 years now. Adults who went to it when they were young back when it started are now bringing their kids. It just keeps going.” 

To enter this year’s race, find information and “adopt” your duck or ducks before the race on Sunday, Sept. 1 online at, or enter and adopt ducks on Sunday before the official start or at the Rotary tent located on the International Bridge at the Vail Farmers’ Market & Art Show. Ducks are $10 each, five for $30 or 20 for $100. All proceeds benefit Rotary programs. There are two races: The children’s race begins at 2 p.m. and the main race starts at 3 p.m.

Eddies sometimes prevent ducks from continuing on in a timely manner during the annual rubber duck race through Vail Rotary.
Chris Dillmann |

If you go …

What: Vail Rotary Club Duck Race

When: Sunday, Sept. 1. Children’s race at 2 p.m.; main race at 3 p.m. 

Where: Gore Creek in Vail Village. Race starts at Covered Bridge and ends at International Bridge. 

Cost: $10 per duck, five ducks for $30 or 20 for $100.

More information: Visit or visit the Rotary Club tent at the Vail Farmers’ Market & Art Show on Sunday morning.

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