Saturday marked the 19th-annual Manhattan Day, but for some residents, their celebrations were newer.
Forecasts of rain postponed at least one block party, but rain did not materialize, and several groups across the city took advantage of the sunny, cloudless weather to celebrate the town holiday, which The Mercury sponsors to commemorate the city’s founding in June 1855.
Andrea DeJesus, president of the Downtown Farmers Market, grilled free hot dogs for customers at the market and for neighborhood residents. Dillons and Hy-Vee provided hot dogs and buns for the block parties.
“There was no (Manhattan Day Party) in downtown Manhattan that I knew of, so we thought we’d have one,” DeJesus said. “We’ve got the Strasser Apartments and McCullough right here, and there’s a lot of people in downtown who don’t really have a place to do a party, so we decided to do it since we’re the Downtown Farmers Market.”
This was the first year the market hosted a party.
“It’s been well received,” DeJesus said. “I think next year, we might go a little bigger. It wasn’t a last-minute decision, but it was toward the end.”
On the west end of town, the Winter Winds neighborhood came together for slip-and-slides, a small bounce house and lawn games, in addition to a neighborhood potluck.
Courtney Wassom, neighborhood resident, said Winter Winds has celebrated Manhattan Day three out of the past four years.
“We have such a great neighborhood, and it’s fun to get together. We’ve had several new neighbors move in recently, so we get a chance to meet people and hang out,” Wassom said. “I think Manhattan Day is just a great thing for the city to do, and it’s great that they offer the hot dogs and buns and give you an excuse to get out, meet your neighbors and build some camaraderie.”
Wassom said the neighborhood has about 15 to 20 families with more than 30 families that participated in the block party. The neighborhood also regularly has get-togethers on other occasions.
“We also usually have a big Fourth of July get-together, and we usually try to get together pretty regularly, whenever we can,” Wassom said. “Any excuse for partying, we round the kids up.”
The Northview community had planned to host a block party in conjunction with a Riley County Health Department vaccination event but postponed the party earlier in the week due to the forecast and high water levels.
Wanting a glimpse of the high water level, neighbors, friends and families traveled to Tuttle Creek Dam last week.
The evacuation advisory announced Wednesday seemed to just drive more people to walk on K-13, which has been closed off because of the flooding potential within Tuttle Creek State Park.
K-State students Katlynne Davidson, Tanner Tyson and Clayton Vanmeter gathered on the now-closed stretch of road to view water leaving the stilling basin aka “the tubes.”
“None of us had seen it this high, so we’re all coming to check it out,” Davidson said.
Davidson, who is from Manhattan, said she’s heard lots of stories about the 1993 flood.
In 1993, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials opened the emergency spillway gates, flooding parts of Manhattan, once the lake reached 1,136 feet above sea level.
“I’m not old enough to have seen ’93, so this is definitely quite the experience for me,” Davidson said.
One man stood with his two children facing where the sun just disappeared. He said he lived through 1993, but he didn’t live in the flooded area back then or the potential flooded area now.
“I wouldn’t live below the dam,” he said.
Ian Roberts, who lives “on the outskirts of town in the country,” stopped by with his wife and their eight-year-old son and five-year-old daughter.
He said he wanted to give his children a chance to see the second-highest lake level in Tuttle Creek’s history.
“I grew up here, so I’ve seen water coming out of the tubes a lot in my lifetime,” he said.
The water coming out of the tubes right now is an attempt to avoid opening the gates like in 1993.
As of Saturday, the lake elevation was 1,135.48 feet above sea level, only 0.52 feet away from 1,136 feet. However, officials said that the lake elevation has stabilized and started to decrease.
As the community watched the water exit the tubes, many discussed the situation. Whether from past experiences or with a fresh set of eyes, people considered whether things could’ve been done better.
The trio of college students had a sunnier disposition about the situation.
“The city’s taken precautions already,” Vanmeter said. “I think we’ll be fine unless we open the flood gates. Then we’ll have to evacuate people. With them opening the tubes now, I doubt we’ll have to worry too much.”
On the other side of things, a Manhattan resident of 16 years said he wanted the Corps to let the water out prior to this. However, as previously stated by the Corps, the water levels downstream made it difficult to release more water prior to this point.
“I think they’re living in a fantasy land if they think they’re not going to open them floodgates,” he said.
Tuttle Creek Lake is finally starting to go down, and that’s brought some relief to emergency workers and residents under an evacuation advisory after a tense week brought the lake to the brink of its capacity.
But while the decreasing lake elevation is a cause for relief, Pat Collins, Riley County emergency management director, said officials aren’t letting their guard down, and neither should citizens.
“We’re not out of the emergency yet,” Collins said. “The lake is starting to decline, the weather is starting to look good and the streams are starting to decline a bit, but we’re still at the point where one big rain in the right part of the basin could cause an emergency.”
The lake level was 1,135.48 feet above sea level as of 6 p.m. Saturday, or a little more than half a foot underneath the top of the emergency spillway gates.
Inflows into the lake were finally lower than the outflows, with the reported inflow at 26,200 cubic feet per second and outflow at 30,000 cfs. After a Thursday forecast predicted the lake would go over its capacity through the weekend, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bumped up the lake’s discharge to 30,000 cfs Friday.
That means the lake is finally beginning to drain, albeit slowly. Under continued releases of 30,000 cfs, the Corps expects the lake to inch down to below 1,135 feet by Tuesday.
“I think that sometime in the next couple of days, we could probably take the evacuation advisory off, but I don’t know exactly when that will be,” Collins said. “It just kind of depends on how fast the lake falls and what happens to the stream flows coming in.”
The current situation means that emergency workers may finally get some rest, even if it’s just a day or a part of one. The Emergency Operations Center is shifting down from 24 hours to operating between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. beginning Sunday. However, officials will continue to monitor water gauges and lake information, and Collins said he did not expect any significant changes in emergency operations.
Collins said citizens should continue their day-to-day activities but remain vigilant.
“I wouldn’t move anything back in, if you’ve moved stuff out of the area, until we see a pretty good decline,” Collins said.
With the lake level still high, officials continued their emergency response. Regionally, Riley, Geary, Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties were added to the federal emergency declaration in Kansas on Saturday.
The four join 11 other Kansas counties as additions to the original declaration that President Donald Trump signed Tuesday, which provided federal aid for 18 other counties.
The declaration brings federal resources “to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe through direct federal assistance for emergency protective measures.”
Locally, the Riley County Health Department was at Vineyard Church in the Northview community giving out free tetanus, diptheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccines to residents who could be affected by flood waters, as well as emergency personnel and clean-up crews. Flood waters increase the risk for tetanus, which is found in soil, dust and manure.
Originally planned in conjunction with a Northview community Manhattan Day block party to offer HPV and meningitis shots, the department moved the location to the church after the block party was cancelled earlier in the week due to predicted rain and high water levels.
Jennifer Green, the health department’s director, said 40 people received vaccines Saturday. Patricia Parker, a Hunter’s Island resident, was one of the first to receive a Tdap shot.
“The last time I had a booster was in ’93 for flood waters then,” Parker said.
While the home her father and uncle built didn’t flood then, she said she wasn’t sure it wouldn’t now.
“There’s always a chance for flood water, and who knows what’s in that water,” Parker said.
A local comedian and performer is the latest candidate in the Manhattan City Commission race.
Mary Renee Shirk filed for the race Friday afternoon. A mother of four, Shirk attended K-State in the late 1990s and has lived in the city continuously since 2003. She previously worked in media across the city, including a stint as the cops reporter for The Mercury in 2017.
Shirk said her experiences in town as a student, single mother and social help recipient have given her insights into how to guide the city to success.
“I’ve moved up and become successful in town, and I feel like I have the experience to guide where the city is going in the future,” Shirk said. “I’m a huge townie, and I absolutely love this town and felt like I have the time now to go and be on city commission and represent folks who maybe haven’t been represented before.”
Shirk said her campaign platform will include ensuring rental inspections and improving the conditions of lower-income housing, in addition to improving transportation infrastructure.
“I want to focus on how we maintain a level of reasonably-priced housing, so we can keep folks in town and keep it growing,” Shirk said. “I believe that bus stops should have shelters, and there are some places in town where expanding the sidewalks would help people walk to work and not depend so much on having a car.”
This is Shirk’s first time running for public office.
Shirk joins Aaron Estabrook, Kaleb James, Mark Hatesohl, Vincent Tracey, Sarah James and current commissioner Linda Morse on the November ballot. The candidates are running for three spots. Mayor Mike Dodson and commissioner Jerred McKee said they would not seek re-election.
Estabrook is a business and community liaison at Flint Hills Job Corps. He is a former USD 383 school board member, serving from 2013 to 2018.
James is a senior business analyst for Maximus. He previously ran for the commission in 2015 and 2017.
Hatesohl is a chiropractor and former city commissioner and mayor. He was originally voted into office in 2003 and 2005 and lost a 2009 re-election campaign.
Tracey is an information technology specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a U.S. Army retiree. He previously ran for the city commission in 2009.
Siders owns a private therapy practice at Andrews and Associates Counseling. This is her first time running for public office.
The deadline to file for the race is noon Monday.