RCPD presence at Pillsbury increases in response to citizen concerns

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Pillsbury Crossing is a common scenic area, but recently RCPD has gained more presence over the location due to increased amounts of swimming. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Pillsbury Crossing is an iconic local natural feature that holds a special place in the hearts of many people in the Manhattan area.

“I’ve always enjoyed Pillsbury due to its simplicity. Nature and water, doesn’t get much better than that,” said Sean Arnold, a Manhattan resident who has been visiting Pillsbury for more than 20 years.

At the beginning of the month, the Riley County Police Department announced its intent to increase its presence and enforcement in the area out of safety concerns to help prevent speeding, unlawful drinking and criminal damage to property. In their social media posts, RCPD also reminded people that swimming, alcohol and parking outside of designated areas is unlawful.

Many people fervently responded on social media, both in favor and against it. Criticism ranged from the authority of government to police a natural body of water, to whether the police department is making the best use of its resources. Moreover, many people expressed ignorance to the fact that swimming is against regulations for the area in the first place.

“A lot of people were under the impression that this is something new, but this is not new,” Hali Rowland, RCPD public information officer, said. “These laws have been in place for a long time.”

Conversely, a number of people voiced their support for increased enforcement, citing instances of dangerous activities at the popular nature spot.

“There has always been issues at Pillsbury, that’s nothing new,” Arnold said. “What is different now, compared to 20 years ago, is the lack of respect for everyone else in the area.”

Arnold said the last two times he’s been to Pillsbury he has witnessed illegal behavior such as reckless driving and littering.

Rowland said RCPD’s increased enforcement was in direct response to citizens’ concerns.

“[In the past year] we had 144 citizen-generated calls for service,” Rowland said. “Our citizens are calling us frequently because of problems they see in that area.”

John Ford, 1st District Riley County commissioner and 32-year resident of the county, said he has received three Pillsbury-area related complaints in the past month.

“[Pillsbury] is one of the things that makes the Manhattan area awesome, but we have to maintain a certain level of public safety, and I think we’re getting to the point where this is kind of becoming dangerous for the people residing in the area,” Ford said. “It may be one thing to have one resident out there that’s concerned … sometimes some people will overreact, but it’s another thing when there are several.

“It isn’t just what’s going on at the Pillsbury site itself, it’s people driving recklessly to and from the area,” Ford continued, adding that he thinks the RCPD is making the right call. “I’m not concerned with everyone who’s going to be angry about restricting it, I’d rather have that than someone complaining [than] not doing anything about it and have someone get killed.”

Such an occurrence is far from a dramatization, as many people have lost their lives over the years due to accidents involving Pillsbury Crossing.

Ford, who graduated from Manhattan High School, said he recalled a child he knew in school who lost their life out there. As recently as 2014, a man drowned in Pillsbury’s waters. Just last month, a vehicle leaving Pillsbury flipped with five people in it, trapping two of them until first responders were able to arrive.

Rowland described the details of what increased presence and enforcement entails.

“What we’re going to do is we’re going to talk to people while we’re out there,” Rowland said. “We’re not going to see somebody swimming and just say, ‘Hey, you’re getting a ticket.’ We’re going to be talking to people and verbalizing what those laws are, and if they’re not complying with the laws, that’s when they’re going to get a citation.”

Curtis Hodges, another Pillsbury frequenter from Fort Riley, said he doesn’t have a problem with enforcement cracking down on problematic behavior, citing instances of visitors who lack respect for wildlife and the outdoors.

“Keeping it clean and respecting the area would go a long way on law enforcement leaving you and the area alone,” Hodges said.

Rowland reminded citizens that the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism regulations concerning swimming are motivated by safety concerns, and there are many sanctioned ways enjoy Pillsbury.

“Walking in the shallow waters is perfectly legal.” Rowland said. “And then they [KDWPT] also allow kayaking and different things out at Pillsbury. You can still park out there, you can still walk in the shallow waters, go see the waterfall, do different things along those lines and see it as a nature perspective.

“We wanna make sure that all of our citizens are heard,” Rowland continued. “If there are citizens who are breaking the law and it’s impacting the lives of our citizens that live in that area, we want to make sure to help correct that.”

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My name is Rebecca Vrbas. I’m the assistant culture editor at the Collegian and a junior in journalism and mass communications. My hobbies include obsessing over an ever-expanding pool of musicals and cats (not the musical). I love writing because of the infinite intricacy of language, as well as its power to cultivate a sense of community through sharing experiences.