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Rangers poised to become ambassadors for city, county parks

Aaron Aupperlee
| Thursday, June 11, 2015, 3:08 p.m.
Braden Meiter (center), 32, lead supervisory ranger of the newly formed county park rangers, stands with other rangers at a news conference introducing them to the public at the Schenley Park Visitor's Center in Oakland on Thursday, June 11, 2015.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Braden Meiter (center), 32, lead supervisory ranger of the newly formed county park rangers, stands with other rangers at a news conference introducing them to the public at the Schenley Park Visitor's Center in Oakland on Thursday, June 11, 2015.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald stands with the county and city's new park rangers at a news conference at the Schenley Park Visitor's Center in Oakland on Thursday, June 11, 2015.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald stands with the county and city's new park rangers at a news conference at the Schenley Park Visitor's Center in Oakland on Thursday, June 11, 2015.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto addresses member of the media as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald stands with the county and city's new park rangers at a news conference at the Schenley Park Visitor's Center in Oakland on Thursday, June 11, 2015.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto addresses member of the media as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald stands with the county and city's new park rangers at a news conference at the Schenley Park Visitor's Center in Oakland on Thursday, June 11, 2015.
Braden Meiter, lead supervisory ranger for Allegheny County Parks, believes that April is one of the best times of the year to explore.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Braden Meiter, lead supervisory ranger for Allegheny County Parks, believes that April is one of the best times of the year to explore.

Rangers stationed in Pittsburgh- and Allegheny County-owned parks won't carry guns or issue parking tickets, but they will help residents find hiking trails and identify species of trees and birds.

“These park rangers are really going to be the ambassadors,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said at an introductory ceremony Thursday, adding that rangers will be able to answer visitor questions of all sorts. “Why the birds are there. What kind of trees? What's in the stream? What's on this trail? What's growing there?”

The uniformed rangers will likely provide an extra sense of security to the parks and certainly an “extra sense of wonderment,” Mayor Bill Peduto said at the event in Schenley Park. “Understanding what that tree is, how and why this type of bird has chosen to live here, what the different types of opportunities are within the park and being able to really fully understand why they created these magnificent parks to begin with.”

The rangers wear uniforms of green pants, khaki shirts and hats.

“We see ourselves as the friendly faces of the park,” said Braden Meiter, the county's head ranger.

When a car drove by, honked at Peduto and Fitzgerald and then veered into a bike lane along Panther Hollow Road, knocking down the safety barriers with a rhythmic “thump thump thump,” Peduto joked that the driver must not be a fan of his effort to make city streets more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

Fitzgerald, also joking, asked if the rangers could chase down the car.

“Get 'em,” Fitzgerald said.

The rangers won't replace city and county police now patrolling parks but will assist them.

The city will pay one full-time ranger in the mid-$30,000 range but an exact amount was not released. Eight part-time rangers will make between $8 and $11.55 an hour.

Jonathan Furman, a Citiparks employee for 10 years and an assistant manager for the Schenley Park ice rink and city farmers markets, will be the head city ranger.

The rangers will work in Schenley Park as part of a pilot program. By next year, the city will expand the program to more parks, said parks Director Jim Griffin. The city does not expect its ranger program to cost more than $250,000 this year.

The county has hired three lead rangers to begin developing its program and has 10 rangers and two program leaders in the parks through the Student Conservation Association.

Meiter, a Beaver Falls native who grew up hiking through North Park and Hartwood Acres, will make $50,000. Paul Trusty, a biologist specializing in the study of fungi and mushrooms, and Thomas Stuhr, who worked in parks in California, Washington and New Mexico, will each make $40,000.

The county budgeted $400,000 for its ranger program this year. The Richard King Mellon Foundation provided $410,000 to fund the Student Conservation Association rangers.

Allegheny County Regional Asset District gave the city and county a $92,000 grant to train the rangers.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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