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Lead Creek Derby celebrating 70th run

Follow the floating ball to Wallace on Saturday

Hundreds of revelers are expected in the Silver Valley on Saturday to watch a giant beach ball float down the river, offering a chance at winning $1,000 in silver coins.

The 70th annual Lead Creek Derby is the highlight of Wallace’s annual Gyro Days celebration. For years, the Wallace Gyro Club, a “friendship” club that raises money for student scholarships, has been tossing the beach ball off the Last Chance Bridge in Mullan into the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River – referred to as “Lead Creek.”

After the noon launch, throngs of people jump into cars, trucks and bikes to follow the ball along the river seven miles downstream to the Sixth Street Bridge in Wallace. Computer-generated raffle tickets are sold for $1 apiece and the one that holds the correct amount of time the ball takes to make the journey wins $1,000 in silver coins.

Fourteen other cash prizes, ranging from $25 to $100, are also awarded. Raffle tickets are sold at businesses and restaurants in Wallace. The derby is accompanied by a three-day carnival with rides and games that starts today and continues through Saturday in Wallace. Tonight at 6:30 p.m., the Wallace Elks Drum and Bugle Corps will parade through town.

The Lead Creek Derby in years past has had a reputation for drinking and driving, but Gyro Club member Dean Cooper said it’s “nowhere near as rowdy as it used to be.” These days, Cooper said, with the 72-mile bike path, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, running along the river, most people ride bikes down the trail as they follow the ball.

Cooper said that over the years the ball has taken anywhere from one to six hours to arrive at its destination. Raffle ticket sales pay for the carnival and for student scholarships. The Gyro Club is hoping to raise $15,000. The event was originally conceived during World War II as a way to buy cigarettes for GIs serving in the war.

Although the rivers are flowing fast with spring runoff, Cooper said the ball can get hung up on fallen trees. Gyro Club members dislodge it whenever it stops.

“I think we can expect a quicker derby this year,” Cooper said.