BY ANDREAS YILMA
NAUGATUCK — A cloudy and chilly June day didn’t get in the way of a couple of thousand people attending the 18th annual Duck Day Race & Festival.
Naugatuck Fire Police blocked off Water Street, Maple Street and part of Old Firehouse Road as the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce hosted the 16th in-person Duck Day Race & Festival. The duck race went virtual in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
The festival, which ran from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., included more than a dozen food trucks, two dozen vendors and the band Measured Soul performing between the Maple Street bridge and J-lucks Sports Bar and Grill. There were also activities for children such as two bounce houses, Thomas the Train Ride and the Midsummer Fantasy Renaissance Faire where a couple of members blew fire out of their mouths.
The event also had a man ride on a unicycle while juggling, a woman walking around on stilts and a new attraction for the festival — a mini-golf course. The festival took over part of the Naugatuck Green.
Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lynn Ward said about 2,500 attendees showed up, from Naugatuck, Waterbury, Derby and Cheshire.
Officials said 12,369 small rubber ducks were purchased in the weeks leading up to when a man operating a bulldozer dumped the ducks over the Maple Street bridge into the Naugatuck River. There were 20 prizes. Linda Clarette of Naugatuck took first place for $5,000, followed by Karen Huggins in second place for $1,000 and Shirley Bouffard in third place for $500.
The chamber gave 50% of the proceeds to nonprofits in Greater Waterbury, Ward said.
“It costs a lot of money to put this festival on and we raise the money in order to do that, in order to support the nonprofits and to support the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce,” Ward said.
Ward pointed to a new factor involving borough elementary school students.
“One of the newest elements of Duck Day is our Naugatuck Elementary School superheroes. We met with the teachers and asked them to designate their brightest students in each class. They determined who their top students are and they are named superheroes,” Ward said. “So we give them T-shirts that say superheroes and we give them little gifts and they came here today and took a pledge in front of the stage — in front of the mayor — that basically said that they were committed to their school and to their education and to their parents.”
About 120 students were designated as superheroes, but only 65 were in attendance. The students were not only selected due to their grades but their character as exemplary students. Parents also took a pledge to their children, and the students went home with a retired race duck.
“It’s quite a privilege to be called a superhero at Duck Day and that’s one of the best elements of today’s event,” said Ward, who has been involved in every Duck Day event.
Ward said she helped create the event with a small group of board members from the Naugatuck chamber in 2005 and began the first one in 2006 while she was just the director of the chamber.
Ward said her husband, Fraser Ward, created the trap for Duck Day in order to get all of the rubber ducks out of the river safely. He still leads that effort every year as a volunteer.
“It’s been 16 years he’s (Fraser) been in that river and today he’s there again with a team of people,” said Ward, who has been Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce and Waterbury Regional Chamber of Commerce President since 2009.
Ward thanked Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess because she said without his enthusiasm for this event, it would be more difficult for the chamber to carry it out.
She also voiced her appreciation for the Public Works Department and the many borough employees who also helped.
“This is an economic driver for the borough of Naugatuck,” Ward said. “People came here today from all over and they look forward to Duck Day.”