COLUMBIA — Mike Griggs feels like he's picking up the baton as a third-leg runner.
Griggs, a long-time employee of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, will become its new director when Mike Hood's career crosses the finish line on Thursday after 15 years at the helm.
Hood, whose retirement date will mark a 30-year anniversary as city employee, took the baton in 1998 from Dick Green, who is a member of the Missouri Recreation and Parks Hall of Fame.
"It's an honor and privilege to follow in the footsteps of Mike Hood and Dick Green," he said during an interview in his office on Tuesday. "These guys have built our department from the early 1960s until now. They are responsible for the current outlook of the department, and it's just a blessing to get the appointment."
Griggs was chosen and interviewed along with three other candidates after an extensive search that yielded more than 100 applicants. The selection was based on his tremendous experience with the department, Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.
"Twenty-six years of experience with the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department will allow for an almost seamless transition," St. Romaine said in a news release. "Mike has the institutional knowledge of the department and has established relationships throughout the community that will be extremely beneficial going forward."
Green first hired Griggs to be a sports supervisor in 1984. After six years on the job, he accepted an appointment in 1990 as director of Parks and Recreation in Sedalia. He returned to Columbia in 1993 to assume the role of parks service manager and was promoted to assistant director 19 years later.
Green praised Griggs' selection. "The city has made an excellent choice. Griggs is a very hard-working man who will definitely do a great job for Columbia."
Griggs said that as the new director he won't change much in the short-term. He intends to continue implementing plans that Hood laid out before his retirement.
"Since the department's activities calender is usually planned six months ahead of time, the citizens will see little change in the next six to 12 months," Griggs said.
Griggs' first priority, however, will be to update the 2013 Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan. A draft will be available for public input and for review by the Columbia City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Griggs said he couldn't have asked for a better staff.
"We have one of the finest staff in parks and recreation management in the state, if not in the whole country," he said. "They're all conscientious, innovative, and I couldn't have asked for a better group to work with me."
He foresees the department embracing and integrating technology in its registrations and reservations as well as developing mobile applications to map out nature trails. He'd also like to see more kids get out from in front of their TVs and back into the parks to lead healthy lifestyles.
Griggs acknowledged the community's involvement and support of the department.
"The community knows the economic and health values for having a good parks system, and we hope that they'll continue to support our parks and programs."
Griggs, 55, holds a bachelor's degree in recreation and parks administration and a master's degree in parks recreation and tourism from MU. He also has been recognized professionally with many awards from the Missouri Park and Recreation Association.
He said he enjoyed playing softball as a youth but now derives satisfaction from watching "folks" as they enjoy taking nature walks on Sundays. He has always loved the outdoors.
Griggs is married to Sue Griggs, who works in special education for Columbia Public Schools. They have two sons, Chris, 20, a sophomore at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and James, 18, a freshman at MU.
Griggs will take home an annual salary of $104,000.
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