Manhattan Parks & Recreation announce project lineup; status of rec centers

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During a monthly appearance on KMAN’s In Focus Monday, Manhattan Parks & Recreation Department Assistant Director Wyatt Thompson spoke of a planned Bike Park project in Frank Anneberg Park to be considered during Tuesday’s Manhattan City Commission meeting.

Thompson signified that the joint proposal from local organization Bike/WalkMHK, for a small mountain biking skills course, would come off existing trails at the south end of the park, nearby the kids playground area.

“This would be a feature that would have some bumps and some turns and things. So if you’re there with your family, mom and dad could kind of walk on the main path, and the kids could take off on a little side trail and have a little bit of fun,” Thompson said. “We looked at three locations kind of at the south end of the park, the one that we’re going to recommend is south of the roadway, where the trail is along that end and then turns back to the north along the east property line. There’s kind of an open area there, it’s got a few trees, and so this new trail will kind of cut in through those trees and connect back up to the to the trail again.”

Thompson says plans initially came up during trail talks conducted back in 2018/2019, where the community implied they wanted more play opportunities along the trail, and indicated it would be a much smaller version of what’s constructed down by the Kansas River with hills and jumps.

Continuing with community improvement, Thompson highlighted the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DOTAR) desire to develop and install historic markers, and interpretive signage along Linear Trail. Thompson signified that this initiative highlights indigenous population sites that existed long ago along the Wildcat Creek corridor, which have little information in the public realm about the people who live there, what they did and how they lived.

“The group wants to install a historical marker and interpretive signage along linear trail that will tell those stories and commemorate the people and the activities that happened long before you and I were living in Manhattan,” Thompson said. “There’s one historical marker that will look very similar to the historical marker installed in Long’s Park, commemorating historic people and events. Then there will also be some interpretive signage that will look similar to some signage we have near the Flint Hills Discovery Center, along the Discovery Center trail describing some of the ecosystem and the natural elements of the Flint Hills that will have color pictures and more detail about the area. I think it’ll be a great way to tell the story of our history.”

This relationship between DOTAR and Parks and Rec first began, according to Thompson, from their experience working with Dr. Lauren Ritterbusch, an archaeologist at Kansas State University back in 2016-17, during a convening of a group of historians on a proper means of telling stories that pertained to Linear Trail.

“We haven’t really been able to implement a lot of that over time, but here’s a chance where a community group has stepped forward and said, you know, we’d like to tell this story,” Thompson said. “They brought the resources to make that happen, the people who know these stories and can tell them as well as funding that they’re pursuing through their national chapter.”

Seeing through to project’s completion, Thompson was overjoyed at the announcement of the Douglass Center opening to the public. Described as a fantastic day, with the crowd welcoming many guests and speakers, this project first took root back in 2013, as a way to serve the neighborhood and larger community and to tell the history of the Yuma St. area and that of the black community in Manhattan.

“This will be a welcoming place for everybody to come and recreate and enjoy, and that’s exactly what we built it there for. We’ve got a large gym space with multiple courts for basketball, volleyball, pickleball, a walking track, a fitness area, a community space, and lots of opportunities for people to to enjoy recreation, fitness, play games and hang out with each other,” Thompson said. “We still are dealing with social distancing, so we’ve got a little bit of restrictions in place still down there. But the event was a really great opportunity to shine a spotlight on that part of town and the new facility and new opportunities that will be available for people who come to the center.”

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This news follows the announcement that the Susan B. Anthony Recreation Center is nearly complete, with the main body of workers now moving to the Eisenhower Middle School site, and tentative open during the week of  May 17th.

“We’re still developing some final details on that event and we’ll be sure to get that date specifics and times out to people just as soon as we can,” Thompson said. “That center is almost ready to open and we’ll be doing a similar grand opening ribbon cutting there as to what we did it at the Douglass Center here a couple of weeks ago.”

With summer right around the corner, Parks & Rec has a full list of programs that they will be offering, extending from women’s pickleball, to indoor and outdoor volleyball, tiny tumbler’s introductory gymnastics, t-ball, softball, baseball, dance courses, arts and crafts, little apple day camp and so much more. To accomplish this momentous undertaking, they must first tackle staffing shortfalls, something which Recreation Director Randi Clifford says last year when everything shut down due to the pandemic, they lost all their part time and seasonal staff.

“Now we’re having to rebuild a lot of our personnel, and the seasonal staff that we hire are pretty critical to our mission. We don’t have a lot of those people in place, so we’re going through that process of recruitment and hiring to find people to restart some of our programs,” Clifford said. “If we don’t get them for the summer, we’ll need to work toward getting them for the fall. We are also somewhat limiting the number of participants that we can handle until we’re hopefully able to recruit some more staff.”

Clifford spoke to events ongoing this month with the “Youth Outdoor Adventure Challenge”, organized on the 18th at Wildwood Park, where children can run in the one mile obstacle course and enjoy the outdoors. Registration for that event is limited to 200 children and precedes the “Junk in the Trunk” community garage sale on the 24th and “Little Apple Bike Swap” on the 25th.

“This is a new event for us and we are offering people the opportunity to basically pull into a parking slot and rent that spot as a mobile garage sale. In other words, the things you can bring with you and set up in that small space,” Clifford said. “We will offer a half day event for people to go come out and register and then sell garage sale items in a fun way that’s it in more of a community format. Then we’ve got little apple bike swap the next day on April 25. We do this to help kids basically recycle bikes, bringing one in and taking another one out, and kind of work on the bikes as well during that event.”

In all the commotion of events on the horizon, and to avoid the rising temperatures Clifford is proud to announce that Parks & Rec will make a splash with opening City Park and Northview’s pools during Memorial Day weekend. During that Saturday, May 29th, staff will be offering swim lessons and exercise classes, with subtle changes due to the closure of the CICO location, and are presently hiring for a number of positions.

“We’re excited about getting geared up. Not having any waterpark open last summer, it’s nice to be able to get most of our facilities back up and running this year and working with some some restrictions as needed and as required,” Clifford said. “We’ve got awesome people hired, even when we lost our entire seasonal workforce last year, that we’ve been able to start bringing them back on. It is kind of a slow process, and we do need to hire a lot of people. So if anybody is looking for something for the summer, we have many, many opportunities in a variety of areas.”

For a full list of activities presently and in the future, visit https://www.mhkprd.com/ or call 785-587-2757.

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Bill Bernard

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