Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival

This is the poster child of festivals.

 

This thought came to my mind after being at the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival for a mere ten minutes on a picture-perfect September afternoon. This festival had it all: live music, a variety of food, arts and crafts vendors, community organization booths, a car show, and kids activities, all nestled in the shade provided by the sprawling limbs of the trees in beautiful Center Creek Park. Plus, the event organization was seamless, with volunteers directing traffic, driving shuttles, and providing information to attendees.

 

True, the organizers of the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival have had a little time to refine the details of this event – like over 20 years – and the festival, which is held the fourth weekend of September every year, now brings more than 15,000 people to the southwest Missouri town of Carl Junction.

 

bluegrass festival overview

Historically, this has been a Saturday-only event, but in 2018, two more days of activities were added to the festival. On Friday night, the Indoor Bluegrass Jamboree was held at Carl Junction’s Stark Auditorium, featuring three bluegrass bands. On Sunday, Pick’n & Picnic’n in the Park (I dare you to say that three times fast!) invited families to eat a picnic lunch in Center Creek Park while listening to the music of the Picker’s Post Band.

 

I visited the festival on Saturday, when it was held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Center Creek Park. I arrived in the early afternoon, and it was pretty crowded. But Center Creek Park is large, allowing ample room for both people and cars, and I didn’t have any trouble finding a parking space. Shuttles were available for those who parked in the free parking areas; there was also a $5 VIP parking option for those who wanted to park near the entrance. But even though I parked in the free parking area, I still didn’t have to walk far before I was immersed in the sights and sounds of the festival.

 

 

Music

Each year, the festival organizers invite visitors to bring their own lawn chairs to relax in while they listen to the stars of the festival: the bluegrass musicians. To me, bluegrass brings to mind banjos, fiddles, and mandolins, but have you ever really wondered where this music came from? Well, I did. So I did some research.

 

According to the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation, bluegrass has its roots in the songs about country life that were sung by those who migrated to America from Ireland, Scotland, and England and settled in rural areas in the Appalachian region. In the early part of the 20th century, the classic bluegrass style as we now know it was formed, blending country, jazz, Celtic, rock, and gospel music styles.

 

And now you know.

 

Well maybe you knew all of this before, but at least now I know.

 

Back to the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival. The music began flowing from the stage at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, and there was a sea of people kicking back in their lawn chairs enjoying the lively music of bands like No Apparent Reason, Berry Wynn & The Fly by Night Band, and That Dalton Gang, who was playing when I took this photo.

 

bluegrass festival band

 

 

Food

What makes listening to live music even better? Why, food, of course! The Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival had a wide array of dining options to choose from including: Ghetto Tacos, Clark’s Cuisine (barbecue), King’s Kettle Korn, and more.

 

 

bluegrass festival fred and reds

Fred & Red’s (spaghetti red and Frito pie)

 

bluegrass festival kona ice

Kona Ice

 

 

Vendors

When I reached the last food truck, I discovered an additional area filled with arts and crafts tents and community organization information.

 

bluegrass festival vendors

Then I realized it led to another vendor area, and then another. This festival was bigger than I’d expected!

 

Here are some of the vendors that were at the festival:

 

bluegrass festival everything crocheted

Everything Crochet by Lori

 

bluegrass festival plaid anvil

The Plaid Anvil (embellished/bleached plaids and leather goods)

 

bluegrass festival kimberlys jellies

Kimberly’s Jellies & Jams (a variety of jelly and jam flavors, including Mountain Dew and Coke, and avocado jalapeno, which I bought)

 

bluegrass festival bjs creations

BJS Creations (jewelry, baby bibs)

 

 

bluegrass festival kimbriel goods

Kimbriel Custom Crafts (handmade pens, razors, and holiday ornaments)

 

bluegrass festival surplus usa2

Surplus USA (metal art)

 

 

 

Car and Bike Show

I continued to walk through park, the energetic notes of bluegrass carrying me along the way. I came to the Car and Bike Show area, where rows of vehicles from different eras gave glimpses into times gone by.

 

bluegrass festival car show

Judging for the show started at noon, and trophies were given out at 2 p.m. This beauty was one of my favorites.

 

bluegrass festival red car

 

Kids’ Activities

Even the little ones had an area dedicated to them at the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival. Bounce houses, pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting, and an art project kept them occupied.

 

bluegrass festival kids area

But if they needed a break from all of the stimulation, they just had to take a few steps to the quiet banks of Center Creek, where they could dip their toes in the sparkling water or search for wildlife.

 

bluegrass festival center creek

With its idyllic setting, and family-friendly, alcohol-free environment, filled with music, food, and arts and crafts, it’s easy to see why the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival attracts so many people to this neck of the woods each September.

 

 

For more information on the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival, click here.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Soar Trampoline Park

Her eyes are fierce and focused as she aims for the netted enclosure. She steps inside and stares fixedly at the padded mechanical arm making its way toward her, facing it like a warrior. Seconds before it reaches her, she bends her legs and gains air from the trampoline below, sending her soaring above the unyielding arm. A triumphant grin spreads across her face.

 

She faced the machine and won.

 

soar wipeout jumping

This machine is called Wipeout, and it’s my daughter’s favorite attraction at Soar Trampoline Park. At least for now, that is. Maybe next time it will be dodgeball, or the ninja area (coming soon). After all, there are many activities to entertain both kids at adults at this trampoline park – the only one of its kind in the Joplin area.

 

soar exterior (1)

Soar is housed in a large grey building tucked behind a strip mall in Webb City, just north of Joplin. It’s the brainchild of Leigh and Danny Schroer, who moved to the area from Louisiana. There, their kids spent a lot of time jumping at the local trampoline parks, and never grew tired of them. Seeing the opportunity to bring a trampoline park to Joplin (Danny’s hometown), they opened the 26,000-square-foot facility in March 2017.

 

It’s been a hit with the community, especially on the weekends when around 800 jumpers check in to catch some air. My kids have been to the park many times, and my youngest recently had her birthday party here.

 

soar sign (1)

So, what does a typical visit to Soar look like?

 

Check In

All jumpers must check in at the front desk and complete a waiver (this can also be done online ahead of time). Jumping sessions can be purchased in 30-minute increments, either on site or online. Also, all jumpers must purchase Soar socks (which you can bring back to use for future visits, like we’ve done).

 

Activities

After you check in, you’re free to soar!

 

soar open jump

Try out some tricks in the open jump area, where there are 40 trampolines to choose from.

 

soar wipeout

Or test your timing in my daughter’s beloved Wipeout area.

 

soar basketball

Have you always dreamed of making a slam dunk? The trampolines in the basketball area can propel you to make that dream a reality.

 

If you come with a group of friends, have some team fun in the dodgeball area, the most popular attraction at Soar. At some point, you may need a break from jumping. That’s when you can dive into Soar’s foam pit!

 

Coming soon to Soar is a ninja course which will include a foam pit, fidget ladders, and six obstacles.

 

Parents, you can rest assured knowing that there are employees walking around and watching the jumpers at all times. During busy times, a court monitor is stationed at each activity, too.

 

soar toddler area

If you have little ones and you don’t want them jumping with the big kids, don’t worry. There’s a designated toddler area for kids under age five where they can jump, and also play in a foam pit.

 

Other Stuff About Soar

If your exercise routine has grown stale, try an ExSOARcise class! Each class is 45 minutes long, and the first one is free.

 

The park also sets aside time for jumpers with special needs. Contact Soar for more info.

 

Jumping isn’t just for kids. Many area professional groups book times at Soar for team-building exercises. The park is available for private parties on Mondays and Tuesdays.

 

Birthday Parties

There is a party coordinator (aka a birthday party fairy) assigned to each party to ensure that things run smoothly.

 

soar birthday tables

You can opt for a birthday table in the midst of the action if you want to watch your kids jump, or you can choose a private room in the back of the building. We booked a private room for my daughter’s birthday, and it was nice having a quiet place for kids to rest (and hydrate), and for the adults to talk.

 

The kids jumped for the first hour, then they returned to the room for pizza (included in the package). We then opened gifts and ate cake (which I brought in) for the second hour of the party.

 

If you’re interested in booking a party at Soar, click here.

 

I’m glad the Schroers brought this park to the Joplin area, giving kids and adults a chance to work off some energy, challenge themselves, and feel the exhilaration that comes with being able to soar.

 

 

Soar Trampoline Park is located at 1502 S. Madison Street in Webb City. Click here for Soar’s website, and click here to follow Soar on Facebook.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

All Aboard Ice Cream

There are restaurants you stop at to fill your belly, and then there are restaurants you visit to fill the pages in your family’s book of memories.

 

All Aboard Ice Cream is one of those memory-making restaurant destinations.

 

Location

All Aboard Ice Cream is located on Highway 86, just south of Joplin. It’s right across the street from Shoal Creek and some of Wildcat Park’s scenic hiking trails. Take advantage of this great location by enjoying a nature walk before or after your visit to All Aboard.

 

 

The Appeal

The Kansas City Southern postal car that sits in the front of the property attracts curious visitors to All Aboard, but the old-fashioned ice cream and hamburgers are the gustatory draws (more about those later).

 

all aboard rr car

 

When my daughter and I visited All Aboard, the first thing she did was run to the rail car to begin exploring.

 

This was once a postal car, and I found it interesting looking at the names of the towns listed on the mail slots in the center of the car.

 

all aboard mail

 

Back in the day, it might take days or weeks for messages to be delivered. Explaining this process to email-savvy young ones makes for a unique history lesson.

 

all aboard car interior

 

You can also eat inside the air-conditioned rail car at one of the dining booths.

 

By the way, All Aboard offers birthday party packages in the rail car. Talk about a one-of-a-kind location!

 

Whisler’s

After exploring the rail car, we headed over to the train depot to order our food.

 

 

all aboard depot

 

The counter is divided between All Aboard’s dessert orders on the left and Whisler’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers on the right.

 

Burgers? Wasn’t this supposed to be about ice cream?

 

I promise I’ll get to the ice cream, but first let me tell you about Whisler’s.

 

Lunch before dessert, you know.

 

People who grew up in southwest Missouri have heard of the original Whisler’s in Carthage that has been perfecting its hamburgers since the 1950s.

 

all aboard grill

 

Well, I didn’t grow up around here so I’d never heard about Whisler’s until it opened at the All Aboard location.

 

Whisler’s is the type of all-American restaurant that you envision when you think of the wholesome 1950s, when burgers and ice cream were regarded with much more reverence than those served in today’s fast-food chain restaurants.

 

That’s because everything was made from scratch back then – and with quality ingredients.

 

Whisler’s old-time burgers are made to order on a busy, sizzling grill in the open kitchen. If you come at peak lunch time, be patient. There’s only so much room on the grill, so strike up a conversation with your neighbor in line while you wait for your juicy beauties to be ready.

 

all aboard burger

 

I ordered a single cheeseburger, which is slightly larger than a slider. Made with fresh, local beef, this burger was dressed with mustard, onions, pickles, and cheese, and topped off with a fluffy bun.

 

If you’re craving more meat, you can order double and triple burgers, or you can choose burgers topped with other types of meat, such as the “Pig and Bull” (with ham), “Sow and Cow” (with bacon), and the “Farm” (with ham and bacon).

 

My daughter doesn’t like burgers (what?!), so she ordered a hot dog.

 

all aboard picnic 2

 

She was obviously happy with her choice.

 

 

Finally, the Ice Cream!

A good old-fashioned slider meal begs to be topped off with a rich, creamy treat. All Aboard makes it easy to satisfy that craving by presenting a variety of ice cream flavors at the counter adjacent to Whisler’s.

 

all-aboard-ice-cream small

 

I confess that I’ve eaten All Aboard Ice Cream countless times in the past — but it was known as Anderson’s Ice Cream back then.

 

Let me explain.

 

Anderson’s Ice Cream satisfied the collective sweet tooth of the Joplin community for many years. Carl and Freda Anderson founded the original ice cream company in 1936 in downtown Joplin, and it was operated by family members until 1999.

 

In 2012, Billy Garrigan answered the prayers of many Joplinites and opened up Anderson’s Ice Cream inside the Candy House Gourmet Chocolates building.

 

Treating my kids to Anderson’s Ice Cream to kick off the first day of summer vacation became our family tradition.

 

When Garrigan moved his business in 2015, he also changed its name to All Aboard because a company in the Northeast had trademarked the name Anderson’s. While it would’ve been nice to carry on the Anderson’s name, I think All Aboard suits this train-themed business perfectly.

 

Drew Evans is the owner of All Aboard now, making premium ice cream in the Anderson’s tradition (its richness comes from 14% butterfat). I tried a scoop of caramelly Creme Brûlée (which is hard to see in the photo because it was such an incredibly bright day), and it was creamy perfection.

 

all aboard dessert

 

Family Friendly

When Garrigan opened All Aboard, his goal was to make the business and location as family friendly as possible. He scored well with the high-quality (yet affordable) burgers and ice cream.

 

The train theme puts him over the top.

 

In addition to the rail car, there’s other railroad memorabilia to discover. My daughter had fun standing by the crossing sign (which looks like she’s standing just a few feet from an active track)…

 

all aboard rr crossing

 

…and ringing the bell in front of the train depot.

 

all aboard bell

 

Older kids can play in the picnic area out front, and young children can toddle around safely in the enclosed patio area where their parents can sit down and eat in peace. There’s also a sandbox and a mini train; tickets can be purchased for a ride around the picnic area.

 

all aboard mini train

 

All Aboard has gone to great lengths to create a destination where families can enjoy wholesome food and family fun.

 

And where lasting memories are made.

 

 

All Aboard is located at 102 Castle Drive. Visit its Facebook page here.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Cunningham Park

Helicopter Park is what we used to call it, about a decade ago.

 

I’d bring my oldest two girls here to let them jump, slide, swing, and climb on the brightly-colored playground equipment under the shade of the many tall trees in this park.

 

If we were lucky – and we often were – we’d hear it: a distant whirring, growing closer and louder by the minute until we saw the source of the sound hovering above the treeline, pausing for a moment as if winking at us before it whisked itself away.

 

cunningham pre 1

Seeing this flying object was a highly anticipated event whenever we came here, and we’d all stop whatever we were doing just to watch it. This magical machine was the St. John’s medical helicopter which was housed at the hospital’s helipad right across the street from one of our favorite places in Joplin: Cunningham Park.

 

cunningham pre 2So many leaves on the ground from so many trees!

 

Unfortunately, what my girls and I knew as Helicopter Park was destroyed by the EF5 tornado that roared through Joplin on May 22, 2011. All of those beautiful shade trees were transformed into matchsticks, tossed with mangled playground equipment, then lumped into piles of debris.

 

But it didn’t take long for the people of our city, working alongside thousands of volunteers from all over the country and all over the world, to clean up the twisted bits of our former buildings and parks, and to create fresh spaces where we could form new memories. The result was a touching tribute, not only to the past, but to the ever-present power of the human spirit.

 

My kids and I weren’t the only ones who missed playing at Cunningham Park in the months after the tornado; lots of people were hard-pressed to find a space in Joplin where their kids could run and play with no worries.

 

Thanks to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, that all changed. The production, which built seven homes a few blocks from the park, also took on the task of building a play area and basketball court at Cunningham Park, introducing these features to the public in October 2011.

 

cunningham boomtown

This wooden play area is made to look like Joplin in its booming mining days. I like it because it feels like a miniature movie set from an old Western.

 

cunningham tall playground

For kids who crave more height and thrills, there’s a three-story modern plastic playground set that has been added on the north side of the park.

 

cunningham old playgroundThe former playground today.

 

cunningham post tornadoThe former playground after the tornado.

 
In the center of the park, in the space that once contained the playground equipment that my kids climbed on back in the Helicopter Park days, there’s now a serene koi pond on the north side and a pond with a waterfall on the south side, with a bridge separating the two.

 

cunningham koi

This is the reflecting pond, which honors the lives of the children lost in the tornado.

 

Walking southeast from this area is the green space where my kids would once excitedly run from me in an effort to get me to chase them. Most of this area is still open, but there are a few new fixtures that are honor the lives lost in the tornado.

 

cunningham plaqueThis plaque lists the names of the 161 citizens who perished on May 22.

 
cunningham fountain

Dedicated on November 22, 2011, the “Proclamation of Restoration” fountain is a replica of the original one which stood at Cunningham Park, the first city park in Joplin, and it reads: To the City of Joplin and the “Seasoning of Lives” lost during and from the aftermath of the May 22 tornado.

 

The north part of the park features a tribute to the volunteers who flocked to Joplin to help our city in those months after the storm. This is the Volunteer Tribute and Children’s Memorial, designed and built by architecture students from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.

 

cunningham steel band

This stainless steel band represents the “The Miracle of the Human Spirit” wristbands that many people wore during the recovery process.

 

The four circles of the tribute represent Rescue, Recovery, Demolition and Rebirth, and pieces of debris form mosaics in the walls of the circles.

 

cunnningham debris mosaic 1

In the center of the circles is a mosaic that reflects the stories about the “Butterfly People” that children told after the storm.

 

cunningham butterfly mosaic

To the north of this area, just past the boundaries of the original park, is the Butterfly Garden and Overlook. What I think is so cool about this area is the “penciled” outlines of the former homes that stood at that spot, especially the Carl Owen house, which was built in 1911 (click here to see what it looked like).

 

cunningham penciled

Sometimes while my kids were playing, I’d look at that house with its unusual row of windows on the upper floor, and I’d wonder what exactly the upstairs was used for. I’d like to think that it was a huge dance studio or a writing room that overlooked the park (how dreamy would that be?).

 

cunningham flowers wall outline

Today, you can walk through the skeleton of the house and learn facts about the tornado and the butterfly garden from the series of plaques that are placed inside of it.

 

cunningham strong fountain

There are several places in the garden where you can sit down and reflect, or simply watch the many butterflies alight on the many blooms that were planted there just for them.

 

cunningham waterwall

There’s a cozy spot under a pavilion that faces the water wall, a 38-segment water feature which represents the number of minutes that the tornado was on the ground. There’s a void in the water wall at the seventh minute, which is when Cunningham Park was struck.

 

While I miss those times when my girls were little and I’d take them to Helicopter Park, I embrace the new features of this transformed park and appreciate the symbolism of every one of them.

 

Now, instead of a helicopter rising above the treeline, I envision a phoenix rising from the rubble.

 

cunningham rosesCunningham Park is located at 26th Street and Maiden Lane.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center is one of my favorite places in Joplin. It’s a place where you can both learn about and experience the unique beauty of a chert glade in southwest Missouri.

 

The first stop on a trip to Wildcat Glades is the visitor’s center; a unique building that reflects its desert surroundings (yes, desert, but more on that later).

 

christmas bird count center facade

The center houses a hands-on learning area, classrooms and a gift shop that sells educational items and earth-friendly items like these earrings made from recycled cereal boxes.

 

wildcat butterfly earrings

The Missouri Department of Conservation has an office adjacent to the center, and it’s a good place to pick up information about other Missouri parks.

 

In the middle of the center, visitors can view wildlife native to the area. There’s a 1,300-gallon fish tank and Ozark stream, plus a chert glade terrarium complex that houses snakes and a tarantula.

 

wildcat turtle tank

A bobcat and a coyote can be found lurking nearby (both are stuffed, thankfully).

 

wildcat center cat

Stop and say hello to Willow, the female American kestrel (a type of small falcon). Adopted by the center in 2015, Willow is unable to fly, so she now lives safely indoors here at the center.

 

Isn’t she pretty?

 

wildcat kestrel

There’s a discovery area where you can listen to different wildlife sounds (such as bird calls), as well as feel the textures of various animal pelts.

 

wildcat center pelts

 

There are several classrooms in the building, and the center offers frequent programming for both children and adults, like “Nature Photography” and “Bird Banding” (for adults), and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Talkin’ Turkey” (for children).

 

Several large events are held at Wildcat Glades throughout the year, like the Shoal Creek Water Festival in summer, and the Christmas Bird Count in December.

 

Armed with knowledge of the area and its wildlife, you’ll be ready to hit the trails and start exploring. Exit through the rear of the visitor center, and you’ll find the hiking trail that begins on the chert glade. 

 

wildcat romping on chert

In Missouri the term “glade” is used to describe a place where underlying rock cuts through thin soil to develop its own unique ecosystem. At Wildcat Glades, the rock that cuts through the soil is chert, which is extremely rare and extremely hard, and it breaks sharply. Like flint, chert was used to make spears and arrows, and archaeologists have found many near Wildcat Park (there are some on display in the center).

 

The chert glade ecosystem is very dry, and plants that are native to arid climates can grow here (yes, that means cacti in Missouri!). These plants also attract wildlife native to arid climates, such as lizards and scorpions (eek!). I’ve personally encountered snakes twice while on the trail.

 

wildcat girls on path

After crossing the glade, the trail enters the woods and begins following the banks of Shoal Creek. The change in scenery is dramatic: from a dry, sunny glade to a cool, shaded forest.

 

wildcat peaceful water

The view from the creek bank is breathtaking in places. Tall bluffs jut out from the sparkling water and demand admiration. If you are up for a challenge, there is a trail that follows the edge of the bluffs and offers a fantastic bird’s eye view of the creek; if not, you can safely view the bluff from below.

 

wildcat cliff reach

If you stay on the trail that leads to the Redings Mill bridge, you can peek into a cave (this is my kids’ favorite trail, for that very reason). We’ve also been fortunate to have spotted a fox along this same trail.

 

There’s so much to discover at the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center; we find something new each time we go.

 

 

Wildcat Glades is located at 201 West Riviera Drive. Click here to visit its website and click here to view its Facebook page.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Emancipation Park Days

The soulful sound of gospel music emanates from the tent, the smoky scent of barbecue hangs in the muggy summer air, and children giggle as they play tag on the lush green lawn.

 

These familiar sights and sounds represent a homecoming of sorts.

 

Each year, people mark their calendars for this one weekend in August when the expansive lawn of Joplin’s Ewert Park is covered with tents, food trucks, booths, and people – people who come to reunite with old friends, celebrate their heritage, and welcome newcomers (like me) to share in some old-fashioned summertime fun.

 

This three-day August event is called Emancipation Park Days, and it falls on the weekend closest to August 4, which is the day designated to honor the emancipation of the American slave in Joplin, as well as in neighboring towns.

 

Since the 1920s, this gathering has been held annually at Ewert Park. This year, the event’s schedule was jam-packed, from Friday evening through Sunday evening, with family-friendly events, including gospel and funk music, a basketball tournament, a fun run/walk, a variety of kids’ activities (including free swimming at Ewert Pool), a car show, a Sunday church service, and – like any great festival – plenty of food and drinks (even a beer tent).

 

eman-days-tent

There was no room for boredom at this cultural affair.

 

Which is exactly why my friend Julie and I brought our youngest kids here. With a couple weeks left until the beginning of school, we wanted to make some unique and fun memories with them before summer ended.

 

eman-days-red-car

We came to Emancipation Park Days on Saturday, the second day of the event. While the August sky was heavy with clouds, the rain stayed away while we were there, allowing us to linger in the comfortably shaded park.

 

The first thing our kids did was the children’s drum craft; they wrapped masking tape around empty plastic coffee containers, then then personalized their drums with their own drawings.

 

eman-days-drum-decor-2

Then they scored some cute balloon dogs from Crazy Dave’s Balloon Animals.

 

eman-days-balloon

Our kids were having a blast with their loot, but I have to admit, we mamas were running out of arms to carry said loot – and we’d only visited two booths by that point.

 

We lingered awhile at the Bikers Against Child Abuse (B.A.C.A) booth, where our kids got their faces painted (and got to sit on a bike), and Julie and I stood, mouths agape, as we learned about this amazing organization. Its mission is to empower abused children to feel safe, and its members – the bikers – do this by going to a child’s house to provide reassurance, or by accompanying a child to court and parole hearings.

 

eman-days-motorcycle

It melted our hearts to hear tough-looking motorcycle bikers talking tenderly about protecting and empowering children who, without the bikers, might continue to feel powerless and voiceless. I was so impressed by B.A.C.A.’s work that I could go on and on about them, but instead I’ll just include a link about them here if you’re interested in learning more.

 

Now back to Emancipation Park Days.

 

We were all starting to get hungry at this point, so the kids snacked on hot dogs while Julie and I treated ourselves to some tender pulled pork sandwiches from A.C.’s BBQ. Naturally, the kids begged for ice cream afterward, so we got them treats from the wildly popular Pineapple Bliss. We didn’t tell them that they weren’t eating actual ice cream but a dairy-free, healthful substitute instead. They didn’t notice.

 

We then made our way back to the children’s pavilion so the kids could participate in the drum circle and dance that was led by members of the African Student Association from Pittsburg State University.

 

eman-days-drum-circle-seated

The kids enthusiastically tested out their coffee-tub drums that they made earlier, trying earnestly to keep up with the drum leader’s rhythm. At one point, the drum leader asked the kids to stand up and follow him in a circle while he drummed, and the kids let their bodies move to the beat as they danced.

 

eman-days-drum-circle

Sweaty after all of that activity, the kids were eager to join in the water balloon toss.

 

eman-days-water-balloon

 

After a few good tosses, their balloon burst on the ground in front of them, spraying them with a teeny bit of water – but not enough to cool them down.

 

eman-days-watermelon

Instead, a couple of slices of sweet, refreshing watermelon did the trick, quenching their thirst and providing relief from the heat.

 

While they snacked on the watermelon, Julie and I had the chance to read the display walls featuring a timeline of black history in the area.

 

eman-days-1946

Among many other things, we learned about Carver Nursery School, which was named after George Washington Carver, an area inventor, educator and humanitarian – and one of my idols (you can read more about Carver and the national park dedicated to him here).

 

eman-days-history

Carver Nursery School was founded in 1951 as a preschool and elementary school for African American children in Joplin. Area African American teenagers attended Lincoln High School until the late 1950s when they joined the other students at Joplin Senior High School.

 

As someone who moved to Joplin in the ‘90s, I had no idea about this part of Joplin’s history. The African American culture is so integrated now in this town that it’s hard to imagine life otherwise. But it’s important to learn about how things were in the not-so-distant past, and I’m glad that this education is a part of the Emancipation Park Days event.

 

We were lingering by the history boards when we saw a crowd begin to form around the tennis courts. “The Cobras must be here,” Julie said.

 

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And they were. We could hear the shrill sound of a whistle and the feel the beats coming from the percussion as The Kansas City Marching Cobras made a spectacular entrance at Ewert Park.

 

This well-known drill team, which has performed for multiple U.S. presidents, combines dance moves from African dance, jazz, and hip hop into its choreography.

 

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The tennis courts at Ewert Park provided a stage for the Cobras, allowing people to watch the team from multiple sides. I watched as our kids leaned on the tennis court fence, transfixed by the energy and movement of the drill team.

 

No video games had been played today. No iPads had been turned on. The kids had been thoroughly entertained at a decades-old cultural festival.

 

And our summer ended with the creation of new memories.

 

For more information on Emancipation Park Days, click here.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.