A longtime veteran of the Parks Department, the Brooklyn native got his start as a park ranger and enforcement officer 35 years ago.
Maher can still recall when former Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis started the Urban Park Rangers, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
“It was a bunch of really motivated people that sort of just blazed the trail and made it up as they went along,” Maher said.
At first, Maher said, the department used lifeguard paylines to hire park rangers. They didn’t exactly get a large budget, so park rangers had to use their creativity to make the most of limited resources.
Their office space used to be a closet in the old Wollman Rink in Prospect Park.
“It wasn’t exactly a feeling of acceptance with the rest of the Parks Department,” Maher said. “There wasn’t a lot of support.”
But most of the rangers were college-educated, enthusiastic and determined. Many agency leaders who now run the department started off as park rangers.
Former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe started as an urban park ranger. Michael Dockett, the Queens Parks commissioner, did as well.
As did former Queens and Bronx Parks commissioner Dorothy Lewandowki. William Castro, the Manhattan Parks commissioner, started off as the director of park rangers.
“There were many, many people that stayed in the agency and they really forged their own path,” Maher said. “It’s really a tribute to the determination.”
The Brooklyn Parks commissioner said that’s the spirit that lives “across the board” in the Parks Department.
“The people who work in parks really love helping people,” he said, “and they really love what they do.”