The entrance to the Mount Airy Duck Race was hard to miss Sunday afternoon.
Two rows of delightfully fashionable cardboard cut-out yellow ducks — some decked out in feather boas, others wearing sequined masks and bucket hats — lined the narrow roadway leading up to the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company activities building. Another mallard, this one giant and inflatable, greeted families at the top of the hill.
Mary Jo Burkett smiled merrily as she watched people mill about, snacking on popcorn being sold by Scout Troop 829 and pushing baby strollers. The event — organized by the fire company and Mount Airy’s Rotary Club — had been a lot of work to put together, said Burkett, area governor for Carroll County rotary clubs, but it had all been worth it.
“Just to see all these people,” she said. “There’s no alcohol, it’s just some simple food and a crazy thing about ducks.”
In the months leading up to the town’s second annual duck race, the fire company and the Rotary club put a siege of yellow rubber duckies up for adoption. People could claim one duck for $10, three for $20 or eight for $50. Over 20 prizes were up for grabs on Sunday, for both random winners and the speediest ducks.
By the time the big day waddled around, 3,839 ducks had been adopted, raising over $50,000 for the fire company and the Rotary, said Dick Wilcher, the club’s immediate past president.
According to the event’s website, the town’s rotary club will spend $7,000 in college and technical scholarships, donate about $34,000 to various community organizations and purchase all materials for the “Spooky Trail,” among other activities. The money raised will also be vital for Mount Airy’s fire company, which had to cancel its carnival — typically its biggest fundraiser — for the second year in a row this summer, said Dennis Regulinski, the company’s assistant treasurer.
Regulinski had another important job on Sunday. Big block letters on the back of his neon T-shirt announced his temporary title: “DUCK DUMPER.”
Just after 2 p.m., he stood at the top of a make-shift canal across from a wooden board carrying three plastic crates piled high with rubber duckies. A Rotarian sat behind him, clutching a thick fire hose that was gushing water.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” a volunteer counted down as rosy-cheeked children squirmed with anticipation. Then, Regulinski and another volunteer set the tiny birds free down the plastic-lined river.
“And they’re off!” the voice over the loudspeaker called.
They didn’t get far. A ducky traffic jam quickly developed near the top of the stream, inciting chuckles among the spectators. But it didn’t take long for a volunteer to come to the rescue, giving the reluctant athletes some encouragement with a bubble-gum pink broom. After the fire company upped the power of the hose, the next race went much more smoothly.
When the Rotary club first brought the idea for the duck race up to the town council, not everyone was enthused. One council member rolled his eyes at the concept, Wilcher recalled, laughing. But it turned out to be wildly successful, he said. This year, the organizers added food and games to the event, along with a special duck race just for kids.
Still, Regulinski couldn’t resist making a joke.
“I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers,” he said slowly as a grin spread across his face, “but I don’t think this is all it’s quacked up to be.”
“And that’s all I got,” he added.