When your office includes the outdoors, the equation for your work-life balance includes a lot of time in nature. So it’s no surprise Columbia Parks and Recreation director Mike Griggs can be found on the neighborhood trails, such as the MKT trail near his house, almost daily.
Griggs is a Columbia native born to a self-described “service industry family.” And Griggs, says city park planner Janet Godon, “is extremely passionate about parks and rec in Columbia.” His experience certainly reflects it. Griggs started in the department in 1984 as a sports recreation supervisor. After serving 13 years as park superintendent, he became director in 2013.
Over the past year, his job has looked a little different, and he has bumped into more people looking for an escape during his daily walks in Columbia’s parks and trails. The Parks and Recreation Department noted that on their busiest days, all trails saw an increase in use between 50% and 188%.
“It’s really validated what parks and recreation officials have thought for so long about promoting our parks and trails,” Godon says. “They’re really an important piece of the public health and community identity.”
Vox spoke with Griggs about how the increased traffic affected his job, the city’s swimming pools and advice for getting out in nature.
What advice do you have for people who are just beginning to go to the parks or hit the trails?
Take a look where you live, go to our website, find trails that are close to you. If you live near the MKT trail, maybe try out a trail that’s somewhere else. You have a lot of different places that people can go to and really get the chance to see parts of Columbia that they might not have seen before.
You’re a longtime Columbia resident. How does your job change how you see the town?
Not all directors have the benefit of the support of citizens like we do. Our Parks and Recreation Department wouldn’t be anything like it is right now without the support of our citizens. They really set the standard. Whenever there is a new trail being built or a new park being developed, it’s because of the demand. Everything we do is a decision based on our residents and what they want, so I think that reflects on Columbia and its community.
Looking forward to warmer weather and pools reopening, any plans to expand the number of swimming pools?
As of now, we have no plans to add any other pools. They can be a difficult item to add because installing them can be expensive and the operation of the pool is expensive as well. We try to keep our pools generating at least 50% of their operating costs, and unless you build a water park, the revenue doesn’t come close to covering the full amount.
When using Columbia trails or parks, do you ever let people know they’re your jurisdiction?
Only when they’re doing something wrong. [Laughs]
I enjoy going to all of our parks and seeing how people use them. Watching kids on a playground, you get a sense of the play patterns, and you suddenly realize that the playset would have been better 10 feet to the left or something like that. You can get a sense of that by seeing how they’re used.