Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2018 - 54
North Georgia park ranger
Will Wagner can't get enough
of the outdoors.
A waterfall marks one of the many scenic spots at Smithgall Woods State Park.
BY NANCY HENDERSON
Will Wagner was just 16 years old
when, during a foray into what
would become a lifelong career with
the Georgia Department of Parks
and Recreation, he performed his
first swimming pool rescues as a lifeguard in Columbus.
"I'd just jump in and scoop [the
babies] out before they even took a
gulp of water in," says Wagner, 37.
Will and Shelly Wagner enjoy the Chattahoochee "Just to have your eye on the entire
Mountain Music Festival at Don Carter State Park. body of water at one time, scanning,
and notice something wrong-you
can almost smell it before you even
see it. I think it comes from being
in tune with your surroundings.
That is something that I've stressed
heavily upon my children: Know
what's going on around you at all
times. Instead of staring at screens
and stressing about this fast-moving
pace that we're struggling in today,
folks need to get outside and take a
deep breath, pay attention to what's
directly in front of them. Nature is
part of us, and when there's a ripple
in that, you can feel it."
This heightened sense of awareness serves Wagner well in his role as
manager of Smithgall Woods State
Park near Helen, the adjacent Hardman Farm State Historic Site, and
the North Georgia Mountain Search
and Rescue Squad, where his team
focuses on cliffs, caves and swiftwater rescues. On any given day, he
might be monitoring the 6,000 acres
at Smithgall, the second-largest state
park in the system and a protected
site for eastern hemlocks and American chestnuts; checking in cottage