For the sixth year in a row, crowds gathered along Shoal Creek in Wildcat Park for a day of activities, both on and off the water.

Chris Pistole, Education Director at Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, and an organizer of the annual event, said the Shoal Creek Water Festival is intended to celebrate the area's water source.

"We have such a wonderful resource with Shoal Creek right here," Pistole said. "So, my dream was to let more people know in this area about what Shoal Creek has to offer. It's so important to both Neosho and Joplin because it's our main water source."

Saturday's event kicked off at 10 a.m. with a water rescue demonstration, followed by a World Bird Sanctuary Live Bird show.

The World Bird Sanctuary, from St. Louis, brought an eagle, a falcon and an 18-year-old screech owl.

At 11:30 a.m. one of the festival's headline events kicked off with the shoebox boat race.
In groups of three, children took turns lining up in the shallow creek and setting off their shoebox creations.

Riley Bowers, 11, of Joplin, won a people's choice award for his boat.

With the letters "RMS Titanic" written on the side, the black, white and red boat was Bowers' second entry into the shoebox races. He first took part in the event at last year's festival.

Bowers said he spent about two days creating the prize-winning cardboard craft.

"It took a little while to build, but it was worth it," Bowers said. "I took a shoebox and cut it out and rounded out the front. It was quite easy."

Booths were also lined along Shoal Creek, offering games, food, music and information for the more the attendees.

At the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center's booth, Pistole said they were highlighting the importance of protecting the habitat along the stream.

"Our booth today is focusing on riparian corridors, that wooded strip along a stream that is so important," Pistole said. "It helps filter a lot of pollution and it helps prevent erosion. We want to encourage people to leave that riparian corridor intact."

Pistole said in addition to helping prevent erosion and protect water quality, maintaining the riparian corridor can also be helpful for several birds, including the prothonotary warbler.

The group offered information on the warbler, also known as the swamp candle.
"They need riparian corridors to survive," Pistole said.

Pistole said to preserve the riparian corridor farmers should leave a strip of a minimum of 100-feet instead of farming up to the edge of the creek bank.

"You can see such a huge difference when you're in a stretch where you see all the erosion because they're farming almost right up to the creek bank and the soil is just coming down," Pistole said. "That causes all kinds of problems for the aquatic wildlife and it impacts the recreational value of the stream."

The Wildcat Glades booth also asked booth visitors to sign a water pledge Saturday, that included tips to preventing water pollution.

"Another thing we're doing is pointing out to people the impact that Shoal Creek has on the water quality in Grand Lake," Pistole said, noting that Grand Lake has had some water quality problems in recent years.

He said the main problem is the excess of nutrients in the water, which can be caused by fertilizers, from farming and from lawns, from livestock and pets, and from septic systems.
"In areas that have more agriculture, they have more water quality issues than we do here with Shoal Creek," Pistole said. "But we all are contributors. We don't often think about that, but everything we do at our homes, it adds up."

One of the afternoon's events, a cardboard boat race, was a cause for concern for organizers recently with the heavy rains and flooding in the area, however, the event was able to go on as planned.

However, Pistole said organizers did encourage participants to be cautious of the possible added bacteria in the water.

"With the flooding comes those nutrients and especially higher bacteria counts," Pistole said. "As a precaution, we're just reminding everybody that is going to be in the water that they need to be sure and not ingest any and also be sure and wash their hands and face good if they've had contact with the water before eating or drinking."

Following the cardboard boat races, the event rounded out with Stone Lion Puppet Theater and a rubber duck race.