Daytona may have the 500, but Mead Botanical Garden has its own “great American race” — The Great Duck Derby.
Going into its ninth year, the derby has become an annual day of fun for local children looking to race their small, rubber duckies down the southernmost headwaters of Howell Creek.
“It has absolutely become a springtime tradition for so many Central Florida families,” Mead Executive Director Cynthia Hasenau said. “There’s tons of children out there just really having a great time being outdoors at Mead Gardens.”
Last year alone, Hasenau said, the event attracted about 600 race participants and more than 1,000 visitors overall.
The derby fun all starts at 10 a.m. Children and parents will be able to buy their own little duckies for $5 apiece — or five ducks for $20 — and decorate them any way they’d like at the “duckoration station.”
During the early portion of the day’s events, the first race will be a sponsor’s race — where derby sponsors will race their own large decorated ducks down the creek.
From there, it’s all about the kids. Mead will put on three separate family races from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. At the end of the day, prizes will be given out to winning participants.
While the races remain the highlight of derby day, there also will be a plethora of different activities for children enjoy — including face painting, games and crafts, snacks and educational showcases from the Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge Animal Encounter and UCF’s Bug Closet.
The Bug Closet, also known as the UCF Collection of Anthropods, is one of the largest databased collections of insects in the world — with more than 560,000 specimens.
This educational side of the derby is one of the most important aspects, and it’s one of the many concepts that originally inspired the event, Hasenau said.
“It was started by our board … they were looking for ways to get children into the garden, as well as raise money — the Duck Derby proceeds benefit our children’s nature programing,” Hasenau said. “One of the things we see children really loving to do, is (getting) to see nature — they’re out there sticking their hands in the pond, and seeing the turtles that are there, and the plants. It’s the best way to spend a Saturday.”
For kids who can’t get enough of the outdoors during the Duck Derby, the garden also will have a drawing for a free week at the popular Mead Young Naturalist Children’s Summer Camp.
Held in six different sessions between June 11 and July 27, the camp — open for children ages 5 to 12 — will feature lessons and adventures that explore the garden’s ecosystem that include wetlands, wildlife, and plants.
“The camp, every year, sells out early,” Hasenau said. “I always say that the camp is about going green and getting grimy and good old fashion summer fun, because the kids really learn a ton about nature.”
The ultimate hope for those at the garden is that local children will walk away with more knowledge about the great outdoors — while also having had a good time doing it.
“It’s absolutely beautiful, the weather has warmed up, and it’s a perfect time for the ducks,” Hasenau said. “It’s a great time to be out at Mead.”