The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 12, 2012

Shoal Creek Water festival, boat races draw 2,000 visitors

By Emily Younker
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Eaglet, a small, one-man boat, flew down Shoal Creek, easily outstripping its opponents.

Standing along the banks to cheer it on was Curtis Ware, a Carl Junction resident who helped design the boat for the EaglePicher team. Paddled by Grant Hutson, of Webb City, the boat — made entirely of cardboard, with a little duct tape and some liquid nails — crossed the finish line first in its heat.

“We took no prisoners,” Ware said.

Ware was part of a team competing Saturday in the cardboard boat races, one of the most popular attractions at the Shoal Creek Water Festival. The festival, held annually at the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center in south Joplin, drew more than 2,000 people Saturday.

That number was a significant increase over last year’s 1,600 visitors, a turnout that likely had been negatively affected by the May 22 tornado just a few months earlier, said Donna Whitehead, the center’s office manager. There were so many people Saturday that all parking lots, even the overflow lots, were filled, she said.

“It’s been packed all day,” she said.

The daylong festival — designed to celebrate the importance of Shoal Creek, which is the source of more than half of the area’s drinking water — also included a water-rescue demonstration; a shoe box boat race for children; a rubber duck race; a live bird show; and exhibitors from local nature and conservation groups.

One racer whose boat didn’t fare well was Jeremy Boes, of Neosho, who was paddling a blue boat constructed of carpet rolls. Racing for Missouri American Water, Boes found his boat — named The Drought Dodger — sinking midway through the race.

“I tried to pull pieces together to ride on it, but it didn’t work,” Boes said. “I was dragging my boat with me, but yeah, I made it (across the finish line). A boat half under water is kind of hard to paddle.”

After being pulled from Shoal Creek, the remnants of The Drought Dodger were almost immediately tossed into a large trash bin nearby. Boes joked that he would have to call a staff meeting with his co-workers to begin refining the boat’s design.

“We’re going to have to sit down at the drawing board and come up with a plan for next year,” he said.

Carl Oberg, of Duquesne, was part of a two-man team paddling a race car-shaped boat named Spirit of Joplin. Painted white with red and blue accents, it had an American flag flying from the back and was covered in stickers from members of the Joplin Area Business Club.

“It’s not bad,” Oberg said of how the boat held up in the water, “but there must be a bad leak because it took a lot of water in the back.”

Deciding that the boat wasn’t salvageable, Oberg suggested to his sons that they take it out into the creek and paddle around until it sank. In the end, the group simply tore the boat to pieces and stashed it in the trash bin next to The Drought Dodger.

Frank Stehm and his son, Shea, both of Joplin, raced in a blue shark-like boat that was making its third appearance at the water festival. Calling themselves Team Wakemaker, they said the boat originally had taken about 80 hours to make and that it holds up well in the water.

Although they came in second in their heat, Shea Stehm said he enjoys the thrill of racing.

“We love fishing and kayaking and canoeing, so we love this for the competition,” he said. “It’s fun to see all the other boats, too.”

Water level

The drought that has gripped Southwest Missouri this summer didn’t force the cancellation of any events of the water festival, though some of the races had to be adjusted because of the lower water level in Shoal Creek, organizers said.