Duck, duck, grill
At first glance, there didn't appear to be anything special about rubber duck 468. It had the same chipper smile, the same unruffled feathers as all the other hundreds of ducks bobbing along Thursday evening in the Knife River. But something in r...
At first glance, there didn't appear to be anything special about rubber duck 468.
It had the same chipper smile, the same unruffled feathers as all the other hundreds of ducks bobbing along Thursday evening in the Knife River.
But something in rubber duck 468 cried out for victory. In the waning moments of the first annual Minnehaha Elementary School PTA rubber duck race, as scores of children and more than a few parents screamed encouragement, rubber duck 468 broke away from the pack and slid, upside-down but still in the lead, into the waiting hands of Scott Ross, official duck catcher.
Race over. Ross called out the winning number, and the crowd cheered again.
Melanie Ross, co-president of the PTA, helped organize the race, held in conjunction with the school's regular year-end picnic. The PTA is trying to raise money to build an outdoor classroom, and rather than hold a meat raffle or an evening of bingo, the group dumped hundreds of numbered ducks into the Knife River. People paid $5 per duck to enter the race -- and the first one to make it down, duck 468, won a kindergartner named Riley a new gas grill.
Business products supplier John Cron ordered 700 rubber ducks for the event. His tip: Make sure you order the kind of ducks that float, because, contrary to expectation, not all of them do.
Flooding a river with ducksdoesn't require any kind of special permit, said Deserae Hendrickson, Duluth fisheries supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources.
Hendrickson first heard of a rubber duck race about a year ago, when a different group held a race on the Midway River.
"When they called, it was like, 'Huh,' " Hendrickson said. "But it was good that they called."
Most of the Knife River ducks stuck together after being released. By the first set of rapids, though, the fleet started breaking up. Some got caught in eddies, others bobbed placidly near the riverbanks, and others stranded themselves on rock piles. Clearly, only savvy ducks were going to make it to the end on their own.
Those clustered at the finish line, a quarter-mile downstream, grew restless as the minutes ticked by. Finally, a small pack of scouts ran up the shore, searching for ducks. And finally, a flash of yellow.
"The ducks are coming!" they shouted. First came our hero, followed shortly by second-place finisher, rubber duck 289.
Melanie Ross had promised the DNR that no duck would be left behind. A small group of volunteers waded patiently after the fleet, freeing stuck ducks and corralling stragglers. It took a long time, especially as the wind blew cold, rain began to fall and the crowd dispersed.
One of the last volunteers to ply the stream was Scott Kleive of Two Harbors -- one of two Duluth firefighters who entered an underground cistern last week to rescue 10 real little ducklings and set them free. His wife, Gina, watched admiringly from the bridge above.