The second largest artificial lake in Kansas, Tuttle Creek Lake, is a reservoir located on the Big Blue River, 8 kilometers North of Manhattan. The artificial lake lies at the border between Riley County (to the West) and Pottawatomie County (to the East), in the Flint Hills region of Norther Kansas.
The dam’s construction was induced by The Great Flood of 1951, which damaged the main parts of downtown Manhattan. Experts proposed a dam that would solve the flood problems in the area, which was met by heavy opposition from locals, but it wasn’t enough to stop the constructions. Construction started in 1952, with the idea of building a dry dam, which would not conserve any water, only pass it through to the river below. The prolonged drought between 1952 and 1953 supported the need of more flow on the Kansas River, as well as the desire for a local recreational spot. Thus, Congress removed the “dry dam” restriction in 1957 and Tuttle Creek Lake was born.
They began to fill the reservoir in 1962, which affected 10 towns in its proximity, completely submerging four: Cleburne, Randolph, Garrison Cross and Stockdale. Out of these, only Randolph was rebuilt, whilst the remnants of old Randolph can still be seen partially submerged in Tuttle Creek Reservoir.
The dam was first tested during the Great Flood of 1993, when waters reached up to 19 meters, making the dam to reach its maximum capacity in July, 1993. This caused the need to release the spillway. All 18 gates were released 1.2 meters, developing a flow of 1700 m3/s. Witnesses said that the roaring of the waters was so loud, it could easily be heard from a kilometer’s distance. The gates were closed after three weeks of water release, revealing a 6 meter deep canyon carved in the ground of the spillway channel. Experts affirm that the exposed rocky surface is 290 million years old. It is locally known as “the Canyon” and is a renowned fossil-hunting area.
The dam and reservoir are located very close to an earthquake-prone area, since the Humboldt fault line associated with the Nemaha ridge passes in the artificial lake’s proximity. An earthquake could wreck the dam, risking the lives of thousands in the Blue River and Kansas River valleys. A project initiated in 2010 has plans to reinforce the dam with more than 350 concrete walls, equipped with warning sensors that would make sure the dam wouldn’t fail in case an earthquake does happen.
Tourism and Recreation
Tuttle Creek Lake and State Park offer ideal conditions for any holiday, from campgrounds and swimming beaches to hiking trails and water sports. The lake’s 160 kilometers of shoreline are perfect for fishing, camping, picnicking or relaxing by the waters.
There are a total of 11 parks on the premises, of which 6 are managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, 4 by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, whilst one is handled by Pottawatomie County. These offer numerous campgrounds either primitive of with utility hookups, flush toilets, showers and other amenities. Those who don’t like camping can stay in the myriad of rustic and modern vacation rentals Manhattan has to offer.
Tuttle Creek Lake is considered a boater’s paradise and one of the best sailing lakes in Kansas; however boaters must be careful and watch out for the submerging objects that care common in the lake’s waters. Waterskiing, jet-skiing and tubing are also permitted on the reservoir’s waters. Canoeing and kayaking are more suitable in the river pond located below the dam. Two designated swimming beaches are located at Tuttle Creek Cove Park and River Pond State Park, both having large sandy beaches and a gently sloping shoreline, with plenty of space.
Fishing is another popular activity, since the reservoir hosts many national fishing tournaments. Anglers can catch plenty of sport fish, including largemouth bass, saugeye, crappie, white bass, walleye, blue catfish, green sunfish, and bluegill. Trout are mainly supplied in Willow Lake during autumn and winter months.
Plenty of hiking trails can be found around the lake, offering spectacular views of local wildlife and Flint Hills. There’s a short nature trail in the River Pond area which can be easily accessed and offers insightful information about local wildlife. There’s also an equestrian trail for horse-riding enthusiasts, offering 20 kilometers of scenic views.
Bird-watchers can enjoy the frequently-seen bald eagle and the great blue herons. Licensed hunters can chase white-tailed deer, turkeys, quails, and pheasants. The park also assures special handicapped hunting areas that permit the use of vehicles to get around.
An 18-hole golf course and a new archery range at River Pond are at service to tourists. There are also a large number of volleyball courts, horse shoe pits, a full service marina and off-road vehicle trails around the reservoir, so everyone can pursue their preferred activities. The Country Stampede Music Festival is also hosted at Tuttle Creek Reservoir and State Park.