Ever thought of building a cardboard boat and setting sail in it? Well, here's your chance! Ranger Willie B. Safe's Wet 'N Wild Waterfest begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 19.
The cardboard boat race caps off the day after inner tube races at 4 p.m. The whole day centers around water safety.
"It’s our annual big push for water safety," said Andrew Jefferson, natural resources specialist and park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "This event was actually scheduled for back on June 23rd; but because of the flood, we had to reschedule it. But we’re excited!"
A sand sculpture contest and life jacket fashion show happen mid-morning.
"It takes place at the Redmon Creek Recreation Area from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.," Jefferson said. "Other activities will include inner tube racing, tug of war, water balloon volley, the OHIO Challenge."
OHIO, is short for Optical Hydro Illusion Obstacle.
"We put together with PVC pipes and it has holes in it for the water hose to hook up to it," Jefferson said. "You have to put on your lifejacket and these fatal vision goggles. The kids call them drunk goggles. You try to walk through without actually getting wet. So we call that the OHIO Challenge."
As for the cardboard boat race, Jefferson says the essentials are provided. Participants have to bring the ingenuity.
"Well, there’s a unique way of doing this," Jefferson said. "What we do is we provide the cardboard. We provide the plastic. We provide duck tape and a box cutter. All essential and therefore you used your imagination as far as building something that will float. The key to it is to not put the plastic inside the boat once you make it. You put it outside because it must be sea-worthy. Once you make it, we put it in at Redmon Creek Beach. You actually get in your boat and paddle from one end to the other."
With all the fun activities, Jefferson hopes the meaning behind Ranger Willie B. Safe's Wet 'N Wild Waterfest will not be lost. It's actually very serious.
"Back in 1994, there were four youths that drowned, ages 10 and 11 in the Southeast Missouri region. One occurred at Wappapello Lake during the dragboat race and later on that same afternoon, there were two more drownings at Sportsman’s Park. They were cousins. There were two that drowned in Poplar Bluff and the next day, Sunday, there was a fourth one drowned. So that was the most tragic weekend that happened in a long time in Southeast Missouri." Jefferson said the Corps faced a difficult time.
"Our project manager at the time, Mike McClendon, he challenged us to come up with some kind of way to negate this from happening again," Jefferson recalled. "That’s when we reached out to the businesses and the local community and the creativity of our administrative assistants. Our park rangers came up with this idea of Willie B. Safe and there are even safety songs that were professionally produced in a studio in Huntsville, AL associated with Willie B. Safe."
In fact, the program even includes booklets about safety that have become nationally recognized. The character, Ranger Willie B. Safe, was born out of sad and tragic events, and has been the focal point of water safety for many years now in Southeast Missouri.
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