CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation department is planning for the years ahead on how it will improve and expand its parks and greenways. Some residents are calling for safety to be at the top of the list.
None of Mecklenburg County's parks or greenways have emergency call boxes on them, but avid runner Billy Shue would like to see that changed.
"Having those blue lights out there could be a deterrent for criminal activity,” Shue told WCNC Charlotte.
Shue has pushed to make greenways safer since March 2016, when police reported that a woman was raped on the McAlpine Greenway.
"The assault activity that happened at McAlpine Greenway definitely stoked another fire within me to want to go to city council and be an activist to try to see more protective measures put in place,” Shue said.
In September 2022, two women were sexually assaulted near trails in Mecklenburg County. One victim was attacked at the McAlpine Greenway and the other was attacked near a trail in Matthews.
Shue thinks better-lit trails and more patrolling by police could also help keep people safe. He brought his requests to the Charlotte City Council at its Oct. 24 meeting.
Meanwhile, the Park and Recreation Commission presented its priorities to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners for the next several years.
Their goals include buying at least 400 acres of land a year, accelerating the greenway extension project, and upgrading park facilities.
According to Park and Recreation Department director Lee Jones, a priority is also making the county's green spaces safer. However, he told WCNC Charlotte it’s also up to the community to stay vigilant.
“When you go out on a greenway be mindful of your surroundings, try not to go alone, and go at reasonable times,” Jones said.
According to Jones, the county has 58 unarmed park rangers that help police patrol greenways and parks.
When asked whether emergency call boxes could be added to trails, he said they won’t work for the area.
"Our greenways are built in riparian corridors, usually in flood plains," Jones explained. "They flood from time to time, so when you have electrical systems that flood, things that rely on electricity become unreliable.”
He also added that call boxes are often vandalized.
To improve safety, Jones said Park and Rec will be adding more lighting to trailheads, parks, and greenways in areas that are not flood plains.
He said they are also adding more mile markers to greenways with scannable QR codes that will tell residents exactly where they are. Plus, he said the codes will help police find someone that scans them if needed.
The mile markers project is expected to be completed by July 2023.