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Kalispell Parks and Rec Director Bids Farewell
Mike Baker retires after 25 years
 Twenty-five years ago, Lawrence Park was a dumpsite and gravel pit lingering in the heart of Kalispell. Kidsports Complex was an empty prairie blanketed in alfalfa. The city’s outdoor recreation program had barely two options for young boys and girls.

It was Mike Baker’s passion for the outdoors and his determination to share that sylvan experience with his community that led to several transformative changes in Kalispell’s neighborhoods.

All these years later, Baker is retiring as the city’s parks and recreation director. Last Friday the city of Kalispell recognized its longtime steward and hosted a celebration in City Hall for the exiting outdoorsman.

“You can’t really describe the feeling: what you feel is that the people you worked with and the job itself, it meant so much to me,” Baker said, adding, “That was a real thrill.”

He was born and raised on the other side of the state, but by his late teens, the high-country allure of the mountains and lake of western Montana drew him away. He worked for the state’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the State Parks Department before joining the city of Kalispell in 1988.

At the time, there were only two city employees in the parks and recreation department. A year after Baker arrived, Jennifer Young came aboard, and the duo began to revitalize Kalispell’s outdoor opportunities. They applied for any grant they could, including a successful bid to the Land and Water Conservation Fund that helped transform a dumpsite into one of the most popular city parks, Lawrence, which burgeoned with the help of a newfound citizen’s group.

The city also began developing a trail system with winding paths that led from the urban center to the rich scenery on the outskirts. The aquatic center at Woodland Park surfaced. The youth rec program ballooned to more than 50 opportunities for youngsters to be active outside.

Then there’s the Kidsports Complex. When Dan Johns and others proposed utilizing the 138-acre School Trust Land on the north side of the city, they found a steadfast partner in Baker. With the help of Baker, Kidsports has grown into a regional destination with its congregation of youth athletic fields.

“It was Mike’s relationships and building partnerships that made it happen,” Young said of the department’s successes over the years.

“Parks and recreation is what the community is about, and it was Mike’s dream that it be important in our community.”

Finalists to replace Baker are being interviewed the first week of January.
 
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