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Future of Amicalola Deer Park uncertain
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The caretaker of a well-known Dawson County animal park has been asked to leave the property.

Sean Smith, who opened the Amicalola Deer Park 10 years ago, was sent a formal eviction notice on July 12. He has not complied.

More than a year ago, property owner George David asked Smith to make plans to vacate the 20-acre parcel, according to Davids daughter, Dana LaChance. David died on Sept. 20, and the property was willed to LaChance. The 20 acres is part of a 1,000-acre farm that belonged to LaChances great-great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Anderson.

The truth of the matter is my Dad wanted Sean off our property more than a year ago, said LaChance. He simply wasnt caring for it properly.

While a lease was signed between Smith, who does business under the name Rainbow Nation Inc., and David in 2003, David did not require Smith to pay rent, nor did the lease establish any fixed expiration date, according to LaChance. The lease was month-to-month.

On March 17, Smith presented LaChance with a proposal to expand the park, which the family had no interest in pursuing, LaChance said.

He (Sean Smith) said we could make money together if it was expanded, but we werent interested in that that wasnt the vision my Dad had for the property.

Smith opened the park as part of his outreach ministry for special-needs children and adults. With 120 llamas, pigs, goats, and deer, interaction with the animals is an integral part of the therapy.

As of today, we have 30 days to exodus, Smith said. However, according to Rustin Smith, an attorney for the estate of George David, who also represents the LaChance family, Smith received his eviction notice in July, more than three months ago.

I dont know if he actually got the letter in his hand, but the law presumes he received it, attorney Smith said. The Smiths are not related. A typical eviction notice gives 60 days to vacate, the lawyer said. We gave them 120 days because we knew there was going to be a lot of stuff to move. Attorney Smith said that if Sean Smith has not vacated by Nov. 11, he will be trespassing on private property, which is a crime.

Sean Smith said his biggest concern is the safety and welfare of the animals. We have to do whats right for the animals, for the mission, and for the (David) family, he said. We are very grateful for what has been provided to us. I love George David with all my heart. Smith added that he has had four offers of properties to re-locate the animals, and that he prefers to stay in Dawson County. His challenge now is to meet the requirements established by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), such as providing adequate food, water, shelter, and appropriate fencing. Our major concern is we dont want any escapes, said Ken Riddleberger, game management supervisor for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division. I dont know if its possible in that length of time hes working with. Weve been asked to help with inspections, and well do our part, but this really is just a mess. Long-term plans for the 1,000-acre parcel include returning it to nature. Last year, we put the property in a 15-year forest covenant, LaChance said. We have absolutely no plans to develop it anytime in the near future. Property held in a forest covenant cannot be developed, according to LaChance.