By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Dianne Maher and her 3-year-old grandson Eragon sat in their beach chairs by the Pequabuck River last Sunday in anticipation for 5,000 rubber ducks to get to the finish line.
Both Maher and Eragon felt so excited for the 11th annual Pequabuck River Duck Race they arrived several hours early. Although the race itself did not start until 2 p.m., Eragon said he was having fun again, just like last year.
Maher entered five ducks in the race, one for each of her grandchildren.
“He loves to watch these ducks come down,” said Maher, adding how this year marks her fourth year at the annual event.
Last Sunday, the sun and high temperature brought a crowd to the streets of downtown Forestville, where the annual duck race returned. Spectators watched the ducks compete to be one of the first 36 ducks to cross the finish line, earning prizes for the ticket holder with the corresponding number.
For Mya Rossignal of Bristol, the event meant winning a prize for the first time, as her rubber duck came in first place. The second time around entering her duck in the race was the charm, as Mya won the $1,500 grand prize.
“I was very surprised,” said Mya, adding how she looks forward to participating in the event next year. “Normally…I never win anything.”
For Lisa Bahr of Plymouth, the duck race sparked an interest even though she just heard about the event the day of.
Although she was not able to buy her ticket in time, Bahr said she hopes to have a rubber duck competing next year.
Sitting by the river with her mother, Baher soaked up the sun with her camera in hand, waiting to see the ducks float down to the finish line, located at the Central Street bridge.
“It’s a beautiful day,” said Baher, adding how the event serves as a great way to support a good cause while getting people to spend the day outdoors. “We’ll be coming here each year now.”
Sponsored by the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce and the Forestville Village Association, the event’s proceeds support beautification efforts in both Bristol and Forestville. In the past, the event has benefitted projects like “Welcome to Bristol” signs, planting flowers, and new Christmas lights for town poles.
“It’s teamwork,” said Penny Critchley of the Forestville Village Association. “[The event] is getting bigger every year.
Each year tickets get sold out for the duck race, and this year was no different. By last Saturday evening, all 5,000 tickets were sold, said Rebecca White, marketing and communications coordinator for the chamber.
“We’ve had a great turnout,” said White.
Critchley said she enjoys seeing everyone having a good time at the event each year.
“That is what it’s all about,” said Critchley, who thanked local businesses for helping to sell tickets. “We like to see people smiling.”
“It was a great day,” added Cheryl Thibeault of the chamber’s beautification committee who plays a role in organizing the event.
At 2 p.m., a payloader dumped off approximately 5,000 rubber ducks into the Pequabuck River. The first 36 ducks to cross the finish line win the corresponding prize for their “owner” with the matching raffle ticket number. From the grand money prize to a 42 inch TV to gift certificates to local restaurants, the race offered a variety of prizes.
Although the rubber ducks have floated down the river for 20 to 30 minutes in the past, the race was shortened this year. The new start location was on Broad Street across from Leether Automotive, which gave the race a more “dynamic” finish, said Thibeault. By 3 p.m., all the ducks were out of the river.
“It ended much quicker,” said Thibeault.
Clean Harbors, a waste management company in Bristol, donated its services to collect the rubber ducks as they finish. Eric Congdon, who worked with his team, said the race has served as a great way for Clean Harbors to get more involved with the community.
“We have a great group of guys that work together on a daily basis,” said Congdon. “This is actually similar to what we do in our daily lives.”
Congdon added the shortened race brings a tighter finish for the ducks and a “more concentrated pack of ducks” at the finish line.
“It’s great from a spectator’s perspective,” said Congdon. “In previous years, there was typically a long gap when the ducks were released and when they crossed the finish line. When they did cross the finish line, they were often spread out by a couple minutes.”
Over the years, the event has provided more than the duck race itself. The event has transformed into a community celebration packed with activities for the whole family.
The event began with a block party, providing food, shopping, face painting, balloons, and music provided by radio station 102.9FM “The Whale,” as well as race mascot Waddles the Duck. Children had access to bounce houses and free games with prizes.
Throughout the event, Bristol residents had an opportunity to return up to three incandescent light bulbs to the Mayor’s Task Force on Energy Consumption booth to receive free LED light bulbs, which last up to 20 times longer and use 80 percent less energy. Through the Energize Connecticut Clean Energy Communities program, the city of Bristol earned a Bright Idea grant by participating in energy-savings programs. The light bulb swap was such a success during the Bristol Home & Business Expo it came to the duck race, bringing a number of left over bulbs from the prior event. During the duck race, over 70 households stopped by the booth to receive LED light bulbs.
Karen Hintz, Board of Education representative who serves on the Task Force, said the light bulb swap will appear at other upcoming community events.
“We’re starting to see more awareness and people are enthusiastic about it,” said Hintz.
In addition, spectators had an opportunity to shop around and browse over 30 vendors that participated in the craft show. Joan Simpson, owner of Joan’s Kitchen on Broad Street, said the weather turned out to be perfect for the craft fair.
Simpson sold her homemade “Pig Candy”—bacon slow roasted with brown sugar.
“It’s a big draw—people have time to walk around,” said Simpson, who organized the craft fair.
The craft fair has become a tradition for some local businesses while serving as a new opportunity for others.
Amato’s Toy and Hobby of New Britain has showcased a variety of classic toys for the past three years at the craft show. From sparkling wheels to potato guns to a bendable Gumby, Amato’s sold the kinds of toys customers cannot find every day, said Sheri Amato.
Amato said her favorite part of the duck race is interacting with the children who stop by the booth.
“It’s nice to come to an event where everybody is happy,” said Amato.
A single mother who worked three jobs and put herself through culinary school over 40 years ago, Cynthia Rae brought her gourmet creations to the craft show for the first time. From lemon cheesecake to honey cranberry to chocolate raspberry chip, Rae showcased a variety of cookies at her booth. Run by Rae and her daughter Marni Rae-Esposito, Moon Rocks Gourmet Cookies has been operating since last September, offering consumers cookies that are made with 100 percent of all natural gourmet flavors.
“We’re getting known all over the state,” said Rae, adding how they have participated in other craft shows in the state.
“It’s fun,” said Esposito. “We love to meet families and we also like to promote a healthier snack.”
PHOTOS by TAMMI NAUDUS