By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
Lucas Hendrickson has been collecting rubber ducks for awhile now, decorating his room with monster ducks, pilgrim ducks, a duck that lights up and ducks decorated to match every season.
There’s about 150 of them in all. He even has a pair of rubber ducky sweat pants he made for a class project.
So when his friend Laura Lee Johnson called him several weeks ago and told him 5,000 rubber ducks would be racing down the Blue Earth River for prizes Saturday, Hendrickson, 14, was in.
“Laura Lee called him and said they were selling these ducks, so we went up to Sam’s Club and bought some right away,” Hendrickson’s mom, Margy, said.
It was the first of its kind in the area. It was brought to Mankato by House of Hope Executive Director Nancee Mason, who had seen a similar race when she lived in Oregon. She wants the Ducky Dash for Hope, which raises money the drug and alcohol treatment facility’s Community Outreach Program, to grow into an annual festival.
A blast from a blow horn down in Sibley Park signaled the start of the race just before 1 p.m. A crowd of spectators watched from a sandbar as volunteers poured a wall of yellow rubber ducks off the Highway 169 bridge upstream.
Then they waited until they could see the wave of yellow coming their way.
Upstream a bit, Joel Erickson, chairman of House of Hope’s Board of Directors, had an early view of how the race was shaping up. He watched as two ducks found their way into a strong current and took a demanding lead.
“I got the full range here,” he said. “I got to see the beginning and I can see the end.”
He liked Mason’s idea for a fundraiser and is looking forward to next year, when organizers plan to add food vendors and entertainment to the event. House of Hope’s outreach program focuses on educating youth about alcohol and drug use, so Erickson would like to see teenagers get involved somehow.
A treatment facility he works with in Albert Lea serves adults battling alcoholism and drug addiction. Many of the people there tell him they started drinking when they were in their early teens. That’s not surprising considering teens receive constant messages falsely saying parties, sporting events and other activities aren’t as enjoyable without alcohol, he said.
“If we could get some junior high kids involved in this, they could have a lot of fun with it,” Erickson said. “They would see you don’t have to have alcohol to have fun.”
The race was originally set for July, but it was postponed because the water was still too high and moving too fast, Mason said. They will start with an August date when they promote the event next year.
This year was a chance to feel out the waters, so to speak, she said. It was pretty smooth for a first-time event.
The gambling, water and city gathering permits were easy to acquire and plenty of volunteers turned out to help. Some used kayaks to act as “duck wranglers” by freeing the ducks caught up along the shore. Others used nets to capture the ducks that slipped through a temporary fence at the finish line.
Only about 1,400 of the 5,000 ducks that were in the race had sponsors, but it still didn’t take long to pick out enough sponsored ducks to award the top cash prizes. Mason is expecting a better turnout next year now that organizers have gotten their feet wet (many literally).
“I think it went really well and I think people had fun,” Mason said. “Our slogan next year will be, ‘Don’t let an orphan duck win.’”
Hendrickson said he had a good time even though the four ducks sponsored by his family weren’t winners. His younger brother, 13-year-old Brandon, said he had fun, too.
“It’s not every day that you can see 5,000 ducks rolling down the river,” he said.