ITHACA, N.Y. — Thousands of rubber ducks plunged down Cascadilla Falls in a frenzied race to the finish line Sunday, at the Cornell Co-operative Extension’s annual 4-H Duck Race.

Karen Barden, a 4-H volunteer, said the race has been going on for more years than she can remember to benefit Tompkins County 4-H youth programs. More than 3,000 ducks entered the competition this year, sponsored by community members who bought chances to see their duck take home a prize. The annual duck race raises over $12,000 for 4-H Youth Programs.

The race starts out with a “duck drop” into Cascadilla Falls, followed by a frantic float down the creek to the 4-H Education Center at 615 Willow Ave. Ducks stuck in the muck get helped along by a corps of duck herders.

An elite squad of duck gatherers scoops the swimmers into large nets at the finish line. Once the gatherers get their ducks in a row, one lucky duck takes home a $750 nest egg with smaller prizes going to 49 runners-up and the last-place finisher.

“This is my fourth year as a duck gatherer,” Barden said, and while two ducks managed to swim past her, volunteers were able to catch them before they reached Cayuga Lake. “We try very hard to ensure that none of them escape, because we believe that this is an event for a fundraiser, not an event to pollute our lake and to be a detriment to our environment,” Barden said.

As the ducks traverse the creek, participants likewise make their way from the falls to the 4-H Education Center, where they converge at a compost fair featuring games, music and food.

This year, Streets Alive! and the duck race happened simultaneously, bringing Ithacans out into the cold spring afternoon throughout the neighborhood. On North Cayuga Street kids took advantage of car-free lanes to bike, skate, play and dance with live music and a mix of food and craft vendors.

Barden said she volunteers for the annual race because she believes in the 4-H youth program. “It provides great opportunities for youth and families… It’s always great to see the community come out to see what the clubs have to offer.”

More than 4,000 youths ages five to 19 participate in Tompkins County 4-H programs each year.

Watch a video recap of the duck race below. Video by Jacob Mroczek.

Featured image: File photo of 4-H Duck Race.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.