By Astrid Zeppenfeld
I have heard of The Big Apple, a.k.a. New York City. But admittedly, up until very recently, I had no idea where to find The Little Apple or what to discover when I got there. And it is quite something! The Little Apple is Manhattan, Kansas. “Well, it makes sense”, I thought. “The name is the same, it’s a little smaller than Manhattan, New York, so why not change big Manhattan’s nickname to match the – albeit smaller, but nonetheless bustling and exciting – Manhattan of the Midwest?” And then there is the historical connection, too. Some of Manhattan’s first settlers were pioneers who received financial assistance from New York investors. Those investors actually insisted on the name for the new community.
The Origin of the Flint Hills
When asked about Kansas as a state, many people with whom I spoke answered quickly, “Flat. Boring. Lots of fields and no people.” Which couldn’t be further from the truth! Sure, if you are just driving through Kansas, you don’t see many beautiful sights, and yes, highway 70 is pretty flat and boring. But so are other highways everywhere else. If you stop and explore Kansas a little, your perception of the state will surely change. So I started asking about Kansas as a destination. All of a sudden, people who had been there for either business or pleasure, started talking about the beautiful nature the state has to offer, especially the Flint Hills.
This region of rolling hills has very shallow soil, due to the limestone ledge underneath. Limestone contains chert, or “flint”. Chert is made up of mineral silica and presents itself as thin, narrow bands embedded in limestone. A little more history here: much of the Flint Hills’ ecosystem, which produces the densest coverage of intact 8-foot-tallgrass prairie in North America, dates back to the time when much of the continent was covered by water. This is because, in the beginning of time, all of the earth’s land was beneath one large ocean, and as a result, the limestone ledge formed in this particular region. With the limestone eroding over time, the flint, which is more resilient, remains; thus giving a fitting name to the rolling hills of Eastern Kansas and North Centra Oklahoma
Meetings in Manhattan
Manhattan is in the center of the Flint Hills, and the Flint Hills Discovery Center tells the story of the significance of this landform. This must-see attraction provides a sensory experience by making you experience the burning of the prairie — offering sensations like feeling the winds that distribute the ashes from the burning of the prairie as those land softly on your skin or give you chills with snowflakes and ice storms. There, you can learn about the Flint Hills’ dedication to the root system, the Native Americans settlers, the importance of farming and ranching in that area, as well as the resulting growth of the region with cattle towns. If you decide to bring your children, they will be thrilled to find out more about the culture of being a cowboy or how to be an auctioneer.
Even if you are only in town for business but would like to visit it, the Flint Hills Discovery Center is centrally located. It’s a short walk from Poyntz Ave, the main street downtown. It anchors Manhattan’s meeting district, where you’ll find the Hilton Garden Inn/Manhattan Conference Center.
With its 135 guest rooms and 15,500 square feet of flexible event space, you can hold your next meeting there and have your attendees stay on-site. If your group is too large to stay at this venue, you can overflow into a Fairfield Inn, Candlewood Suites, or Holiday Inn Express within walking distance.
Another good option is the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel on the opposite side of Manhattan’s meeting district. The facility can accommodate 800 guests with 20,000 square feet of flex space, according to Manhattan CVB’s website.
On breaks, you can enjoy nature at Tuttle Creek Lake, Konza Prairie or the iconic Pillsbury Crossing. Take an excursion to the Discovery Center or another of Manhattan’s attractions, like the Wareham Theatre, Wildwood Adventure Park, Liquid Art Winery, or go see the eclectic Midwest Dream Car Collection. Many of these attractions have ample meeting space available, too, and the green space in front of the Discovery Center often gets used for team building exercises, while the Discovery Center itself offers two meeting rooms on the third floor, 650 and 850 square feet in size. It can also accommodate a large off-site reception in the Rotunda area, with 1,700 square feet of meeting space.
Little Apple, Large Enjoyment
Steve Wittmuss, Commercial Vice President for Farm Bureau Financial Services, held the company’s operations conference in Manhattan for 350 people, including social events at a few of the town’s favorite must-see spots. Wittmuss sums up, “We had a great time.” He could not say enough great things about the different venues
where he took his group for social events. “We enjoyed all of our social activity locations and activities. Weather was a challenge, but would have been wherever we would have held that week in the Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa area. People at all venues were great to work with.”
Among other things, his group did a game show night “Family Feud style” at the Wareham Theatre, hosted by local personality Dave Lewis. He really took advantage of the close proximity of the Flint Hills Discovery Center/Blue Earth Plaza. This venue more than educational and a fun place to visit with kids. Wittmuss said, “We had a lot of events scheduled to do on the Blue Earth Plaza (Wood Carver, Roping Demo, Beer Making Sessions, BBQ Sessions and Drone Demo), all were canceled due to massive amounts of rain. We still had karaoke, caricature artists, up close magician and lots of great food. The Flint Hills Discovery Center has a lot of space with multiple levels. Jonathan was great to work with and his staff was able to adjust when the weather forecast went south on us – for example we were going to do karaoke on the third floor patio and had to move it inside.”
Liquid Arts Winery, even though a 20-minute drive from Downtown Manhattan, is worth a closer look for meetings and events. “Beautiful location. Great hall. Fire pits and yard games are available outside. We had live music and great food, catered in by Martinelli’s from Salina, Kansas. Their chicken parmesan was as good as I have ever had. Dani at Liquid Arts was great to work with. A very unique venue,” says Wittmuss.
Kerry Kerr, Senior Director at HelmsBriscoe, recently visited Manhattan to evaluate the community, meeting facilities, and amenities. She wrote, “A short drive that feels a world away. MHK is truly a hidden gem and is poised to be a much bigger player in the meetings market.”
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a contributing writer from St. Louis, Missouri.