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Duck river race is cancelled

EUGENE  — After a 27-year run that raised more than $5 million for local charities, the Great Rotary Duck Race in Eugene is no more.

Instead, starting this fall, the United Rotary Clubs of Lane County will hold what they're calling the "Great Rotary Raffle," Rotary spokeswoman Diana Bray said.

The annual duck race along the Willamette River was expensive to put on and a huge time commitment for volunteers, she said.

The event also was bumping up against state Department of Justice financial rules restricting raffle expenses to 18 percent of the money raised, Bray said.

Last year, Rotarians sold 60,384 tickets, raised $301,920 and gave $250,000 to nonprofit agencies.

Expenses were 17 percent of the money raised.

"Being able to reduce costs is probably going to allow us to increase, if not sustain, our overall support to the agencies, and that's our overall goal," Bray said.

"We really hope the community will continue to support our efforts."

The Rotary clubs aim to raise $250,000 this year to give to four or five nonprofits — the same amount they have given away in past years, Bray said.

Purchasers of a $5 raffle ticket still will get a chance to win such prizes as a car or hot tub, and the proceeds still will go to area nonprofit organizations that aim to strengthen families and prevent child abuse.

But the Rotary fundraiser no longer will culminate in early October with 60,000 rubber ducks, banded with raffle numbers, bobbing down the Willamette River and prizes awarded to "holders" of the first ducks to cross the finish line.

Instead, raffle winners will be selected by a random number generator and announced at a "watch party," details of which will be announced later this year.

The Great Rotary Duck Race, which had been categorized as the biggest raffle in Oregon, was an annual tradition that brought out young and old to watch tens of thousands of rubber ducks spill out of a 40-yard Dumpster suspended by a crane at the Autzen Footbridge and make their tumultuous way down the Willamette to the DeFazio Bike Bridge.

Some families invited relatives from out of town to watch the event, and a man in his 70s told The Register-Guard years ago that he had come to the race for the first time because it was on his bucket list of things he wanted to do before he died.

"It was an awful lot of fun," Bray said. "But in all reality, there were more people in the river, on the banks, or in the park putting on the event than watching it."

Jim Torrey, a former Eugene mayor and longtime Rotarian, told The Register-Guard in 2007 that the club initially had ordered 20,000 ducks from a Chinese manufacturer, but when they arrived at U.S. customs, officials sliced them open to look for drugs.

Rotary has not yet set the date of its watch party, where the raffle winners will be revealed, but it will be this fall, Bray said.

In this 2011 file photo, a rubber duck rides a wave during the 2011 Great Rotary Duck Race in Eugene. AP PHOTO.
In this 2007 file photo, boaters watch as thousands of rubber ducks are released into the Willamette River at the Autzen Footbridge during the annual Rotary Duck Race at Alton Baker Park in Eugene. AP PHOTO.