Kenai Lions Club hosts annual rubber duck race

Of the approximately 650 to 700 yellow rubber ducks floating down the Kenai River on Monday morning — released upstream of Kenai’s Cunningham Park by the Kenai Lions Club during their 22nd annual duck race fundraiser — most had been pushed by the current into two large clumps. One duck, however, had broken free of the others and was drifting ahead.

“Is that duck going to win?” asked volunteer Jared Oberts, riding in his uncle John Oberts’ boat, wearing a Lions Club vest over his lifejacket. It was Jared Oberts’ fourth year helping with the race, in which the Kenai Lion Club solicits individuals to sponsor ducks — $20 each — for the prize of $7,000 on the winning duck. John Oberts, a Lions Club member and this year’s top duck salesman — he sold about 300 race tickets, earning about $6,000 for the Lions Club’s charitable vision programs, according to Lions Club secretary and treasurer Dennis Swarner — estimates he’s participated in 12 duck races.

“You can’t tell,” John Oberts said. “There are a lot of variables — the currents, the eddies, the breezes. Everything.”

“I think one year there were some harbor seals bopping around,” said Kenai mayor Brian Gabriel, who was riding in Oberts’ boat.

Gabriel and his fellow mayor, Soldotna’s Pete Sprague, had just experienced the river’s capriciousness first hand. Upriver of Cunningham Park, the two had climbed out of a boat and on to two person-sized inflatable rubber ducks — Sprague taking a fall into the water while doing so — to participate in a new event for the long-running fundraiser: human racing.

In last year’s rubber duck race, Swarner himself mounted one of the inflatable ducks and joined the toys drifting down river. What was then a one-off stunt had provoked some discussion among Lions Club members, Swarner said.

“That was cool, they told me — but you need to figure out how to make money on it!” Swarner said.

The mayor’s race — in which participants bought $10 tickets on one mayor or the other, and a drawn name from the winning side earned half the pot, with the Lions keeping the other half — was the answer. Swarner said most of the tickets had been on Gabriel — probably, he said, because most had been sold in Kenai.

The two mayors found out the currents can be as fickle as voters. Although Sprague took an early lead, Gabriel ended up passing the stairs at Cunningham Park — the finish line — far ahead his opponent. Sprague drifted ashore and Oberts picked him up before before heading back to Cunningham Park to collect the next racers down the Kenai River: two large clear bags full of about 300 rubber ducks each.

Like everything else on the river, the speed of the rubber ducks depends. Oberts said last year’s race lasted about 15 minutes. This year the ducks ran on an outgoing tide, and the race took about six minutes — followed by about 15 minutes of cruising the river to scoop the ducks up by net and by hand.

The clumps of rubber ducks had drifted apart by the end of the race, and it’s not clear whether the duck with an early lead was the one that crossed first by the Cunningham stairs, where two volunteer boats strung a rope between them for a finish line. The duck that did, however, was number 327, whose winning ticket had been bought by Cassie Olson of Soldotna.

Though the new mayor’s event proved popular, Swarner wasn’t sure whether or not next year’s rubber duck race would have human participants. He joked that after having gotten two mayors to ride rubber ducks down the Kenai River, next year the Lions may invite gubernatorial candidates.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Daily school district COVID-19 risk levels: Aug. 4, 2020

Risk levels are based on COVID cases reported in a community and determine how schools will operate.

In this July 13, 2007, file photo, workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, near the village of Iliamma. The Pebble Limited Partnership, which wants to build a copper and gold mine near the headwaters of a major U.S. salmon fishery in southwest Alaska, says it plans to offer residents in the region a dividend. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)
Trump Jr. says he opposes Pebble project

Pebble partnership said they don’t believe the president will interfere with the statutory process.

Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, talks to the media about his nomination for Speaker of the House in this February 2019 photo. Knopp died July, 31, in a plane crash near his home town. (Michael Penn/ Juneau Empire File)
Knopp’s name to remain on Aug. 18 primary ballot

Should he win, the Alaska Republican Party will be able to petition for a replacement candidate.

Image via Kenai Peninsula Borough School District
Board OKs $5-per-hour raise for school nurses

The increase in pay is set to expire at the end of 2020-2021 school year.

Soldotna High School English teacher Nicole Hewitt teaches her students remotely from her empty classroom at Soldotna High School on Monday, April 6, 2020 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Education commissioner talks school start

State reports 66 new COVID-19 cases

John Webster and Duane Jennings with the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank unload a truck at the food bank just outside of Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Food Bank sees major uptick in demand

Nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser of year undergoes changes due to pandemic

Tim Dillon, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, is seen here reviewing his proposed changes to the Alaska Legislature regarding the AK CARES funds for small businesses at the KPEDD office in Kenai, Alaska, on July 1, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
States expands small business grants

The AK CARES Grant program is being modified in response to calls for changes.

Daily school district COVID-19 risk levels: Aug. 3

Risk levels are based on COVID cases reported in a community and determine how schools will operate.

A fire crew can be seen here at a containment line for the Swan Lake Fire in this undated photo. (Courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management)
Fire crew’s departure highlights different wildfire season

With fire season winding down, state sends firefigthers south

Most Read