Naturalist, administrator new Springbrook director

Springbrook Nature Center has a new director.

Mike Maher, 37, a nature enthusiast with an agricultural and administrative background, succeeds Siah St. Clair, who retired April 30 after serving as the nature center’s director for 35 years.

Mike Maher has been named the new director of Springbrook Nature Center. He succeeds Siah St. Clair, who retired after serving as director for 35 years. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Mike Maher has been named the new director of Springbrook Nature Center. He succeeds Siah St. Clair, who retired after serving as director for 35 years. Photo by Elyse Kaner

The Fridley City Council approved Maher’s appointment at an April 22 meeting.

Maher most recently worked as executive director of the Manitowoc County Historical Society in Manitowoc, Wis.

“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Maher said in an interview. “I’m also excited about being able to influence so many people.”

His first day on the job at the Fridley nature center was May 1.

In his former position, two museum sites yielded about 20,000 to 25,000 visitors a year. Springbrook boasts more than 200,000 visitors annually.

Among Maher’s major accomplishments at the historical society, he oversaw a three-year project establishing Pine Crest Historical Village, a 40-acre outdoor museum. The grand opening celebration was April 27, days before he headed to Fridley for his new job.

Also, under Maher’s leadership, Manitowoc County Historical Society’s endowment fund grew from about $100,000 to $450,000.

As Springbrook director, Maher will be responsible for overseeing staff, managing the center’s trails, maintaining the interpretive center, bridges, boardwalks and gazebos, and managing the natural resources base, including wetlands, woodlands, wildlife and prairies.

He will work closely with the Springbrook Nature Center Foundation on Springbrook’s SPRING (Sanctuary Protection and Renewal Into the Next Generation) project, a conservation effort with the goal of preserving a majority of the nature center’s 127 acres and focusing use of the center within a seven-acre area at the front of the park.

Also, Maher will head nature programs, school programs, summer camps and special events and work alongside Springbrook’s many volunteers – nearly 1,300 at last count in 2012.

Maher plans no changes for the time being. For now, he plans to continue the tradition visitors have come to expect at the nature center.

Thirty applicants applied for the Springbrook director position. Nine candidates were interviewed. The field was narrowed to two candidates, with Maher emerging as top choice after undergoing two interviews.

“I think he had the right combination of being a naturalist and director and administrator,” said Jack Kirk, Fridley’s director of parks and recreation. “We really need somebody who can do both.”

A love for outdoors

Maher was raised in St. Louis, Mo.

His upbringing was steeped in family camping and fishing trips.

“I’ve had a love for the outdoors since I was a child,” he said.

It was while he was in college that he decided to turn his passion for nature into a career.

Mayor holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from Penn State University.

His first job out of college, after serving a nine-months internship, was as curriculum coordinator at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Lanesboro. He started in 1999 and worked there until 2004, when he took the job with the historical society.

Among his mentors, he notes the staff at Eagle Bluff where he completed his internship. He saw firsthand how much they enjoyed their jobs and the effect they had on visiting students, he said.

Maher will relocate from his residence in a rural area 20 miles from Manitowoc to the Twin Cities area. He’s married to his wife, Patty, of eight years. They have two children, Will, 5, and James, 2.

Said Kirk about the new director, “He certainly has big shoes to fill with Siah’s leaving. But, we think he’ll do really well.”

Maher has worked toward the goal of being a nature center director for 20 years.

He’s honored to follow in St. Clair’s footsteps, he said.

“I’m looking forward to hitting the ground with my feet running,” Mayer said.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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