Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2018 - 55
The higher the better for Wagner, who loves scaling peaks like Grandfather Mountain near Mount Pisgah.
guests and leading farm tours; or
helping build the new 4,400-footlong, ADA-compliant Chattahoochee River Trail that will connect Hardman to downtown Helen. "That's
what I love about being a park
ranger," he says. "No two days are
the same. And in my 21-year career,
I can't tell you two days that even
recognized each other."
Wagner was raised in the rural
backwoods of the Florida Panhandle
by two nature-loving parents who
often took him camping as they
moved from city to city in Georgia.
"I grew up with a coonskin cap on
my head," he jokes. "The minute
that I could walk, I ran into the
For three summers during high
school, he lifeguarded at innercity pools in downtown Columbus, where he enjoyed interacting
with underprivileged youth who
couldn't afford sports camps but
needed a way to stay out of trouble.
After graduating from Abraham
Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton in 2003-he paid for his tuition
by working at a pet store and servicing aquariums at local doctors' offices and libraries-he took a break
to explore the canyons, caverns and
caves out west. While there, he became intrigued with backcountry
medicine, became a Wilderness First
Responder, and learned how to do
everything from delivering a baby
in a remote area to setting a broken
leg with a tree limb at the bottom
of a cliff.
He later returned to Georgia and
earned a degree in outdoor recre-
ation and education, minoring in
business with the intent of running an operation like Smithgall
one day, and spent several summers as a raft guide on the Nantahala and Ocoee rivers, where he
honed his whitewater rescue skills.
After that, he worked at Reynolds
Nature Preserve south of Atlanta,
then in 2009 took a park management job at James Floyd State Park
near Summerville and the Chattahoochee National Forest. He also
became a statewide squad leader for
He became intrigued with backcountry
medicine, learned how to do everything
from delivering a baby in a remote area to
setting a broken leg with a tree limb at the
bottom of a cliff.
May/June 2018 55