Dozens of extra police, firefighters and medics will be on duty next month in Des Moines when thousands of cyclists roll into the capital city for a much-anticipated RAGBRAI stop.

Des Moines police plan to dedicate an entire patrol shift — about 30 officers — to policing the route, campgrounds and planned festivities on Court Avenue. The remaining two patrol shifts will work 12-hour days to cover the rest of the city while the ride stops in Des Moines July 23 and 24.

“This is a really big deal,” said Des Moines Police Chief Judy Bradshaw. “Not very often do we take a complete shift of officers and put them on a single event.”

The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa is making its first stop in Des Moines since 1997. Up to 10,000 registered riders will roll through West Des Moines en route to the official campgrounds at Water Works Park. Thousands more unregistered tag-alongs are sure to join the ride too, officials say.

Even more revelers are expected to pack the Court Avenue entertainment district, where festivities will be headlined by a concert on the Court Avenue bridge featuring 1990s rock favorites Everclear, Live, Filter and Sponge.

It’s been more than two decades since the ride came through the heart of Des Moines. In 1992 and 1988, riders camped on the Capitol grounds and partied on Court Avenue.

But when RAGBRAI came through Des Moines 16 years ago, riders camped at Blank Park Zoo, and an estimated crowd of 22,000 showed up for the party. According to Register archives, city officials then said they could not afford to bring the ride through downtown Des Moines again, where more police would be required for security and traffic control.

It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach this year, said Maj. Dana Wingert, who heads the police department’s patrol division. Most officers can’t take vacation during the week of RAGBRAI and many will earn overtime, though estimates on the total costs of policing the event are not yet available, he said.

“This is an event that requires a lot of police resources for the simple fact that it’s not held from 9 to 5,” he said. “This is a 24-hour event with a lot of special attractions sprinkled in.”

The last time Des Moines police dedicated an entire shift of officers to one event was in 1993 when the Ruan Greater Des Moines Grand Prix auto race was held downtown, Bradshaw said.

Pleasant Hill police will have two to three extra officers on duty for traffic control when the riders roll through Wednesday on their way to Knoxville.

The Iowa State Patrol has a team of 13 officers who will follow the ride across the state.

Medics on hand

The Des Moines Fire Department plans to have three extra ambulances and about 18 extra medics on duty during the stop.

In terms of preparations and resources, RAGBRAI is comparable to the Iowa State Fair, said Fire Chief Tom Patava. Medical emergencies are the primary concern. In addition to the usual scrapes and bruises, heat illnesses are possible, especially if temperatures soar to the triple digits like during last year’s ride, he said.

The trickiest part of the ride through Des Moines figures to be a steep hill on Dean Avenue near Sleepy Hollow Sports Park, which riders will descend on their way out of town Wednesday, officials said. There are no shoulders on that stretch of the two-lane road.

Officials will be stationed at the top of the hill, warning riders to use caution, and two ambulances will be parked at the bottom to treat any injuries, Patava said.

Campground plans

One of the biggest challenges of hosting the event is finding a place to shelter thousands of campers in case of severe weather or flooding, Patava said. The Raccoon River has already flooded Water Works Park once this year during the wettest spring on record in Iowa.

The fire department is working with the city of Des Moines on a contingency plan but the plan is not finalized, Patava said.

Officials said they hope the campgrounds will remain relatively quiet, with most of the festivities funneled to the Court Avenue district.

Fortunately, Wingert said, cyclists can ride from Water Works Park to Court Avenue on bike trails without clogging up any major streets. Officers on bikes will patrol the trails to ensure people are riding safely, he said.

Wingert said RAGBRAI participants are a generally well-behaved bunch. “We don’t expect any major issues from the RAGBRAI crowd,” he said.

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