Fall foliage takes center stage Saturday with Blackbird Creek Reserve's annual Fall Festival. Start the day with the "Race For Our Rivers 5K" and then stick around for canoe and kayak rides, handmade items inspired by nature, live music and food.

Blackbird Creek Reserve is turning fall into a festival this weekend with an event that celebrates autumn's finest local display: vibrant foliage, pristine waters and lush landscape.

This is seventh year for the event, which began in 2007 with 310 people anxious to experience the outdoors. Last year, 1,200 people attended, checking out the Townsend property owned by the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve.

"It's one of the more pristine creek systems within the state of Delaware," said DNERR Education Coordinator Jennifer Holmes, who also explained that it is one of the few waterways that hasn't been straightened by man. Unlike other creek and river systems, all the twists and turns of Blackbird Creek exist today much the way that they always have.

Much of the festival's events pay homage to that, offering visitors the opportunity to get up close and personal with the land. The day will begin with the "6th Annual Race for Our Rivers," a 5K that takes runners off the paved road.

"The 5K trail takes you alongside Blackbird Creek," Holmes said. "You also go through meadows and forested areas. It's more like trail running."

In years past, the race was organized by the Appoquinimink River Association. This year, it is being organized by the Delaware Invasive Species Council, in partnership with DNREC, but the mission is the same as always—to encourage conservation practices along Delaware rivers and to fund projects that protect the state's water and land ecosytems. In particular, DISC aims to protect the area by preventing the introduction of invasive species or, at least, to reduce the impact of foreign plants, animals and insects.

All the runners are encouraged to stay for the festival, which will include fun for the whole family. Highlights include guides hikes, hayrides, free face painting, kids crafts and hands-on activities, a hay maze and four musical acts, who will provide a soundtrack for the day.

"We'll also have demonstrations by blacksmiths and Native Americans, informational exhibits and lots of vendors who bring handmade crafts," Holmes said. "We'll also be offering canoe and kayak rides, depending on the tide. If the timing of the tide doesn't cooperate, people will still be able to check out the feel of things."

The craft vendors will include regional artists like Rick Schuman, who carves wood with antique 18th century tools and Phillip Johnson, who makes statues using silverware. Other vendors include the Middletown Lion's Club, who will be serving up crab cake sandwiches just as they have since the event's inception and two other food vendors: Joyful Bites and B and B Concessions, who will have lots of walkable food options like hamburgers and hot dogs.

Another big part of the day includes DNERR's "Thank You Delaware Bay" campaign. Holmes explained that stations will be set up throughout the reserve with messages and craft opportunities that drive home the idea that the water and land of Delaware provides much to be thankful for, from hunting habitats and recreation opportunities to meals and jobs.

"The idea is that we should return the favor," Holmes explained. "We'll have information there for volunteering and people can sign pledges to keep conservation as an important part of their lives."

The festival takes place Saturday at 801 Blackbird Landing Road near Townsend from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The reserve is open from dawn until dusk seven days a week, with some places marked for active hunting during shotgun season in November.