Think of Saturday’s Shoal Creek Water Festival as a celebration of Joplin’s primary water source.

Sure, the cardboard boats and cute ducks are always huge draws, but the daylong event is all about emphasizing conservation education alongside recreation.

The 12th annual festival kicks off at 9 a.m. with a kids-dedicated fishing derby at Walter Woods, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation. It is open to ages 15 and younger.

Kids will be given the opportunity to catch and release fish from the Walter Woods stocked pond; awards and prizes will be given away during the festival. All equipment, tackle and bait will be provided.

“Getting the kids outside and connected to nature is one of our overall goals,” said Robin Standridge, executive director of the Wildcat Glades Friends Group. The derby “gives kids a chance to either learn or perfect their fishing skills with a little friendly competition on the side.”

New to the festival this year will be a raptor show, sponsored by Missouri American Water, held from 11 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. inside the main tent. Meagan Duffee-Yates, master falconer, will discuss the art of falconry — hunting wild game using trained birds of prey — while demonstrating certain techniques using live birds. She will also discuss the steps involved in becoming a falconer and the importance of raptor conservation, Standridge said.

Annually averaging around 1,000 in attendance, the festival will also include conservation education stations, water balloon volleyball games, a celebrity dunk tank, food trucks and races: inner tubes, shoebox and, the most famous of all, cardboard boats.

“We are expecting between 10 to 15 cardboard boats,” Standridge said. “The amount of time and commitment that goes into these boats is outstanding. It takes real creativity and hard work to make a contender.”

The event, which takes place at Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, 201 Riviera Drive, is free and open to the public.

Details: 417-708-7713 for the festival; 417-629-3423 for the fishing derby registration.

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