You can add greenskeeper to the list of duties overseen by Spokane Valley Parks Director Mike Stone.
Now in his third year on the job, Stone is not about to start planting “Replace Your Divots” placards in the turf at Mirabeau Point Park and other sites across Spokane Valley. So, when a would-be golfer ambled up to the sod near the CenterPlace Regional Events Center last week, Stone made it clear that chipping with a Nike sand wedge – or any other club – was not allowed on the grounds.
Crisis averted, Stone resumed his discussion about the state of Spokane Valley parks with the knowledge that at least one more resident now understood the difference between a green and greenspace.
“Ultimately, I feel it’s my responsibility to ensure that our parks our in the best condition possible,” Stone said.
Stone will tell you that the education component is a significant responsibility of a department that consists of nine full-time employees, including five at CenterPlace, the city’s state-of-the-art multipurpose venue that also houses the Spokane Valley Senior Center. Whether it’s letting a nonprofit organization know that a municipal permit is required for a fundraising walk or explaining the logistics of pavilion reservations to a pair of conflicting reunion groups, Stone approaches each scenario with the patience and composure of a tennis line judge.
“People understand when you talk to them,” Stone said. “Some are still not aware that we’re a city and that there are certain rules in place.”
The city has had a “parks ambassador” position in place for the last five years to help keep sites running smoothly. The seasonal job begins June 1 and runs through the fall. Among other responsibilities, the parks ambassador is responsible for alerting the city of maintenance issues and educating parkgoers about a variety of policies and procedures.
Summer reservations for park facilities are taken by the city on the first workday of January. In the case of a popular site like the main picnic shelter at Mirabeau Point, Stone said weekends through this summer are mostly booked. Reservations are posted in each respective park and facilities can be utilized by a walk-up group if no event is scheduled.
With its picturesque setting near the Spokane River and the Centennial Trail, Mirabeau Point continues to be “the flagship” of the municipal parks fleet, Stone said. The 14-acre site also includes serene Mirabeau Meadows and one of Spokane County’s few waterfalls – albeit a constructed version. The addition of Discovery Playground last year – a unique playground for kids of all abilities – and nearby CenterPlace and Valley YMCA have created a recreational hub which hosts a wide variety of civic events and activities, including Valleyfest each September.
Stone – who came to Spokane Valley after working 26 years with the city of Spokane, including a tenure from 2000 to 2007 as parks director – said Mirabeau Point and its surrounding amenities have become the Valley’s small-scale rendition of the Spokane’s Riverfront Park, a 100-acre space also near the Spokane River that was created for the 1974 World’s Fair.
“It’s become our community events center,” Stone said.
On the development front, progress continues on a new park in the Greenacres neighborhood this summer. Stone said pavement and curbing has been completed and work on the irrigation system is underway. The 8.3-acre space will include perimeter walking paths, a picnic shelter and playground as well as sports fields.
“It’s moving along well at this point,” said Stone who added that the bulk of the work should be completed by mid-October.
Stone credited the residents of the Greenacres community for their advocacy in support of the park. Citizens wrote letters to local leaders, held informational meetings and commissioned a survey on park priorities to 500 households.
“They were very integral in the process,” Stone said.
A year ago this month, the City Council approved procurement of $200,000 from a civic facilities fund on behalf of Greenacres park. At a meeting on July 13, 2010, Stone told council members that the city could lose part of a $500,000 grant if they did not move forward with a construction agenda. Stone also campaigned to cover the remaining balance of the $1.58 million cost with funds from a parks capital fund that sat at $1.3 million at the time.
“I feel our department is very well supported by the council and administration,” Stone said.
The city currently has a parks budget of around $3 million.
The city continues to contract with Senske Lawn and Tree Care for park maintenance, a collaboration that was renewed in 2009 when the landscaping company checked in with the low bid for the municipal contract. Senske officials report to Stone and keep close tabs on a wide variety of issues, from waste disposal to vandalism. Stone noted that the city’s maintenance schedule and expenditures will experience a shift next year as the Greenacres site will add approximately $100,000 annually.
With a review of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan scheduled for next year, Stone said one of his department’s main challenges involves securing land for future growth. Currently, the city has 73 acres of park space, not counting areas like Dishman Hills and the Centennial Trail.
Stone said he is enthused about potential signage additions throughout the city that will provide more of a municipal identity at park sites.
“It’s goes back to that education process,” he said. “We’re not trying to be heavy-handed, we just want people to know there are rules in place.”