These Safety Nets Are Starting to Disappear from Gray’s Lake

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- A popular central Iowa park is undergoing a noticeable change.

Crews are removing emergency service equipment at Gray’s Lake in Des Moines. Officials say the equipment may no longer be necessary, but not everyone agrees.

“It’s the most popular park in the city, if not the state, and it just has a safer feel," said Jen Fletcher, of Des Moines Parks and Recreation.

It’s so safe and packed with people that the Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Des Moines Police Department, will remove all emergency phone boxes from the lake and Meredith trails.

“Of the 100 calls we receive a year from the call boxes, about 90 percent of them, or more, are false alarms. We get here, and there's nothing going on,” said Des Moines Police Sgt. Paul Parizek.

Another reason both departments want to tear down the boxes is the popularity of cell phones on the trail.

"When we first opened the trail, there were only 10 to 20 percent of people in the park using cell phones. Now, it’s up to 90 percent,” Fletcher said.

Despite those statistics, hearing about the removal still makes some trail-goers uneasy.

“I don't think they should be taken down. There could be an elderly person walking down at night and something happens to them. They may not have a cell phone and these would come into use," said trail user Noel Medina.

“I understand the need because of people using their phones, but I like to have them there just in case," said another trail user, Shari Theis.

Frequent flooding, particularly in 2008 and in 2015, have significantly damaged the boxes and left them inoperable.

“Repair is not an option. We are looking at complete and total replacement and that's nearly a half million dollars,” Fletcher said.

The boxes will soon be gone, but not the police presence.

“You’ll see officers assigned to Gray's Lake. You'll see officers assigned to Evelyn Davis Park. There will also be a Roving Parks car that goes from park to park,” Parizek said.

Strength in numbers and your smartphone are the new safety net.

“Who doesn't have a cell phone?  Plus there are a lot of people who use this park now, and that didn't always use to be the case,” said trail user Elizabeth Jones.

The Des Moines Police Department says people should always use the buddy system while using the trails especially at night and inform someone when you plan on returning from the trail.

Crews started removing the boxes Tuesday.


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