After a pandemic-induced hiatus, the famous Rock River Anything That Floats Race is returning to Rockford. On Aug. 20, spectators once again can gather to marvel as makeshift vessels glide down the river. The race route, which spans 1.65 miles, begins just north of the Auburn Street Bridge and ends at Prairie Street Brewing Co. downtown.
Powered only by the brave and resourceful humans aboard, watercraft of all shapes, sizes and themes float toward the finish line. As the name of the race implies: if it floats, it’s a boat.
Race organizers say some boats from years past are so clever they’re hard to forget.
“The airplane from 2018 was a crazy float,” says Reed Sjostrom, chief brand and products officer at Prairie Street Brewing Co. Katy Chadwick, broadcast revenue manager at Mid-West Family Broadcasting, agrees. “They put an actual plane on the water,” she says. “It was wild.”
They’re excited to be part of this year’s race committee. The annual event brings teams, families and businesses together for good-natured fun while enjoying one of Rockford’s best assets: the Rock River.
“I can’t emphasize enough what a cool team-building exercise it is,” says Jay Graham, founder and creative director at GrahamSpencer Brand + Content Solutions. “Race day is just a blast for the contestants because people are lining the river yelling and cheering them on.”
There are two divisions, one for completely homemade rafts and one for commercially manufactured hulls. Both divisions require racers to power the rafts themselves.
Landlubbers have plenty of places along the shore to watch the floats go by. Each boat is timed, so just one raft at a time leaves the starting line. Not only is this safer for everyone on the water, but it also provides spectators with a steady stream of entertainment. Popular places for viewers include the launch site, the “Symbol” statue, Sinnissippi Park, Riverfront YMCA, Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens and, of course, Prairie Street Brewing Co, where spectators can work on their tan, enjoy live music, and fire ducks off the dock and toward a mid-river target. Don’t worry. The ducks are rubber.
Dubbed “Release The Quackin,” this dockside game is like a duck drop but better.
“We have this big slingshot on the edge of the dock, and there’s a target floating out in the river,” Graham says. “You can buy ducks and fire them out to win prizes.” The game runs from noon to 3 p.m. and costs $5 per duck or $20 for 5 ducks.”
It’ll be a party-like atmosphere all day at Prairie Street with food trucks, vendors and the brewery’s usual beverages.
“We’ll do something similar to Dinner on the Dock,” Sjostrom says. “We’ll have grab-and-go food options, the usual brewpub menu and the bar.”
Food and drink options are also available at Nicholas Conservatory, another good place to see the rafts floating by.
While the pandemic may have dropped an anchor on the Anything That Floats race from 2020 to 2022, the time has come to reignite this passion project. And it’s all for a good cause.
As a nonprofit event, proceeds go to support community events and activities. Past beneficiaries include the Fourth of July Celebration, Festival of Lights, Rock River Trail Initiative and the Ski Broncs.
“What makes this event successful is people supporting the race,” Chadwick says. “Without that support, these events go away. So, show up, make your raft, become a sponsor or sign up to volunteer so we can keep fun things like this happening in town. Jump onboard.” ❚