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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Longtime Spokane Valley Parks Director Mike Stone to retire

Spokane Valley’s Parks Director Mike Stone is retiring after nearly 13 years running the city of Spokane Valley’s parks department, plus four years with Spokane County and 26 years with Spokane Parks & Recreation before moving to the Valley.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

In the nearly 13 years Mike Stone has led Spokane Valley’s Parks Department, he has been part of many firsts: the city’s first park construction project, first major land purchase, first dog park, first trail and first inclusive playground.

When Stone, 67, was hired as the city’s parks director in 2008, he already had nearly 30 years of local parks and recreation experience. He’s spent the remainder of his career guiding the fledgling city of Spokane Valley’s inheritance of a few parks from the county to more than a dozen formal parks.

“If you go to work at a city that’s been around for 100 years, you’re not doing a lot of firsts,” Stone said. “That’s what’s been nice working for this city.”

Stone has worked at every major park system in the greater Spokane area, spending four years as a park planner for Spokane County and about 26 years working in the city of Spokane, eventually being promoted to parks director. He will be retiring on Jan. 4 after nearly 42 years working in local park systems.

Stone’s first foray into local parks was as a high school student in Nampa, Idaho, his hometown, when he was hired to take care of the city’s softball fields.

Stone studied landscape architecture in college and was hired at a firm in Spokane before he was hired by Spokane County as a parks planner. At the county, Stone was involved in the planning of several parks that Spokane Valley, not yet a city, would one day inherit, including Browns and Sullivan parks.

After four years at the county, Stone was hired at the city of Spokane to do landscape architecture. While at the city, he was the golf director and operations manager, first managing Manito and eventually the city’s whole park system when he was hired as director.

After seven years leading the city of Spokane’s parks department, Stone was fired by the Mary Verner administration when she became mayor. He said his departure from Spokane may have been serendipitous in its own way. When he left the parks department in late 2007, the city of Spokane Valley, which had incorporated just four years earlier, was looking for an experienced park director to lead a small but growing system.

“Things happen for a reason,” he said.

Stone said it’s challenging to choose his favorite park in Spokane Valley, but the two projects of which he may be proudest are Discovery Playground and the recent 45-acre purchase of river-adjacent property on Flora Road.

Stone said the playground, completed in 2010, is designed for children of any ability level and was an early entry in a wave of those types of playgrounds and public spaces. He noted the city of Spokane’s new inclusive playground and said those types of facilities are likely the future, he hopes becoming the norm, not the exception.

He said the Flora Road project will have to be guided by a new generation of park employees and he’s just glad it’s publicly owned, ensuring the community will have a chance to enjoy it.

“The fact that we have that in our land bank and it’s not going to be developed for some other purpose, that’s a good feeling and I’m at peace about that,” he said.

Stone said he’s also proud of what the parks department has been able to accomplish with its small staff.

Spokane Valley only has a little more than 95 positions, nine of which, including Stone’s, are in the parks department. Many of the services provided by parks are contracted out, and Stone and the small parks staff have often found themselves wearing multiple hats, volunteering at festivals, and planning and coordinating park redesigns or land purchases.

“You might be on the phone one minute, digging a sign next and then on the trail picking up trash,” he said. “Every day has its challenges, and joys as well.”

He said he considered retiring earlier this year, but didn’t want to leave in the middle of a pandemic. He said leaving the park system in the off-season should help the city’s transition when it hires a new director.

The city has posted the job, but has not yet hired his replacement.

In retirement, he said he plans to focus on golfing and spending time with his wife, two children and four grandchildren, who all live in the Spokane area. He said at one point he may volunteer in hopes of giving back to some of the projects on which he has worked.

While Stone said he is looking forward to retiring and spending more time with his family, he does regret leaving the city just after it purchased a large swath of undeveloped riverfront property.

“That’s a project that dreams are made of,” he said.