WINDER - When Artie Doughty started work as a Fort Yargo park ranger 20 years ago, he didn't know he would spend the better part of every summer supervising other people's kids.
For decades, Fort Yargo's rangers and personnel have dealt with the hazards brought about when children are left at the park all day while their parents work. The park has hired a full-time patrol ranger, Andy Barrows, to combat the problem.
"They smoke pot, tear up the bathrooms, break in cars, they swim too far out without supervision," said Doughty, Fort Yargo's senior ranger. "Not so many are left alone. Many are left with older kids."
Under Georgia law, children can be left alone with another child as young as 13, said Rebecca Clack, social services generalist at the Barrow County office of the Division of Family and Children Services.
Fort Yargo's rangers see plenty of 13-year-old baby sitters, Doughty said.
"A 7-year-old girl was riding her bike down the hill and hit the end of the bridge face first," Doughty said. "She was left here with a 13-year-old to watch three kids, ages 7 to 11."
Rangers tend to see the most kids on Wednesdays, when Georgia's state parks offer free admission. On a Wednesday in July, rangers pulled four boys down from the roof of the beach building. Over the years, Fort Yargo's rangers have seen kids hurt when left alone with a lake, a beach, walking trails and miles of forest.
"A 9-year-old boy fell playing and busted his head. He was left with a young sibling," Doughty said. "The mother told me, 'I got to work. I can't come.' I said, 'Lady, if you're not here in 30 minutes, this kid goes to DFCS.' She was here, and I got fussed and hollered at for bothering her at work. The kids didn't come back."
Although no children have died at Fort Yargo while unsupervised, Doughty said he fears the day when he will be faced with a life or death situation.
Doughty said the park has seen a marked decrease in under-supervised children since Barrows began patrolling its acres.
The lake, beach and putt-putt golf course at Red Top Mountain State Park in Acworth have not become a magnet for kids on summer vacation, Ranger Janice Ganiai said. Neither has Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge, Ranger Sherry Rhodes said.
Doughty speculates that Fort Yargo's location inside Winder's city limits make it a convenient spot to drop kids.