Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2018 - 56
"...if Hurricane Irma comes knocking on the door of Savannah,
we'll take our boats down there with the swift-water response
and pull people out of homes." -Will Wagner
the Georgia Department of Natural
Resources search and rescue team.
"If I'm off one day and get a phone
call that something's happening on
Pigeon Mountain over in Lafayette,
I'll respond if I can," he says. "And
if Hurricane Irma comes knocking
on the door of Savannah, we'll take
our boats down there with the swiftwater response and pull people out
In 2011, Wagner was recruited
to help build and open the new
Don Carter State Park on busy Lake
Lanier. Three years ago, "every park
ranger's dream job" became avail-
able at Smithgall Woods and he
was hired as general manager, overseeing the secluded park's highly
regulated trout fishing and imperiled plant species protection plan.
His favorite part, he says, is finishing a major project and observing
visitors' reactions. "To sit back and
watch somebody enjoy it," he says,
"is why I lace up my boots and go to
work every morning."
Despite his outgoing nature,
Wagner relishes the chance to retreat to a secret hideaway on the
west side of the park "where the
rolling hills of the Piedmont run
The Wagners visit Cades Cove with daughters
Isla and Emme.
"No two days are the same" at Hardman Farm State Historic site next to Smithgall Woods, Wagner says.
into the 4,000-foot blue wall of the
Blue Ridge," he says. "There's a spot
where I can see it and look a mile
into the forest and see 250-foot
Dukes Creek Falls from that vantage
spot. It's a great place to go and hash
out some of the stuff going on inside
my own head."
As part of his rescue duties, he is
also responsible for finding lost people-and dogs-at Smithgall. One
time, a woman went hiking in the
woods with her small dog, which
took off running when a swarm of
yellow jackets spooked him. Wagner helped her contact her family,
searched the hillside, and found the
wayward canine. "If you can keep
your calm, you can usually work
your way through it and find somebody," he says, "as opposed to walking right by them."
As if all this outdoor activity