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Sheriff's office sees spike in calls from park
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Calls for assistance to the sheriffs office from Amicalola Falls State Park have skyrocketed since a DNR ranger assigned to the park was pulled out, according to law enforcement officials.

In 2011, the Dawson County Sheriffs Office received 35 calls. In 2012, it was 56.

In 2013, there were 208, Sheriff Billy Carlisle said. Amicalolas ranger was pulled out on July 1, 2013.

From justJuly 1st through Dec. 31, we had 128 calls, Carlisle said. I think DNR should get those folks back (assigned to the park).

In a cost-saving measure, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) turned over management of Amicalola Falls State Park in December 2012, and nearby Unicoi State Park, to Florida-based Coral Hospitality. The firm is privately owned and manages lodges, hotels, golf and country clubs and residence associations.

During the transition, one DNR ranger assigned to Amicalola Falls State Park was reassigned.

Fielding all the calls has put a hardship on us, Carlisle said. Plus, its not solving the problem. Having a (DNR) officer there deters crime.

Currently, one Wildlife Resources Department law enforcement officer covers seven counties, including Dawson.

When his (DNR) truck is parked here, its helpful, Michael Middleton, park resource manager, said. We notice things like speed limits dropping. His presence makes a difference.

Middleton also makes rounds at the park.

With the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi, Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge is one of Georgias most popular parks. It features 900 acres, two miles of roads, and miles of hiking trails, including the southernmost entry point to the Appalachian Trail.

The officers (Dawson County sheriffs deputies) do ride through more than they did in the past, Middleton said. And we really appreciate that.

If he is unable to make his own rounds, Middleton said, he appoints another employee to make the rounds. Neither Middleton nor his appointed employee has law-enforcement training.

I always try to error on the side of caution, he said. We are not law-enforcement trained. I try to outthink the other guy.

DNRs Capt. Thomas Barnard said the state is working on a personnel matrix with DNR.

Were going to assign officers as needed at some of these parks as the transition keeps taking place, he said. Were looking at park activity and taking that into account. Dawson County with Amicalola Falls, Dawson Forest, and Lake Lanier is on the radar.

Barnard did not have an estimate for when the matrix would be completed and law enforcement assigned. He did say, however, that one of DNRs goals by 2018 is to have all law enforcement brought under one DNR umbrella.

Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge has the fourth highest number of visitors in the state with more than 423,000 visitors in 2013 -- making it the fourth highest visited park in the state. Number one is Veterans State Park on Lake Blackshear in Albany, Ga.