Police: Crowds, rowdiness getting worse at Lanier parks

By most accounts Lake Lanier has never been more crowded — or rowdy. And that's not just on the waters of the man-made reservoir, which attracts nearly 8 million visitors annually.

The lake's 47 parks are also drawing bigger crowds and, according to law enforcement, they are becoming increasingly difficult to control. On Sunday a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ranger was reported assaulted by a guest at Burton Mill Park in Flowery Branch after he issued the man a citation for consuming alcohol in a prohibited area.

Charlie Brown Jordan, 24, of Suwanee, punched the ranger repeatedly before being subdued by pepper spray, according to the Hall County Sheriff's Office. He was arrested and charged with felony obstruction of an officer.

Such incidents are far from the norm, according to law enforcement. But with the Corps of Engineers dealing with budgetary constraints that have resulted in personnel cuts, the agency finds itself having to do more with less.

"You name it, it happens in the parks," said Hall County Sheriff's Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, who's noticed a "surge of activity" this summer.

Last September, Wilbanks discovered a man sleeping in his car at Little River Park; the man turned out to be a murder suspect. He had managed to evade police for three days while hiding out in the sleepy Gainesville recreation area, one of the lake's smallest.

That would prove much more challenging at parks on Lanier's southern end, which are typically packed on weekends. It's not unusual for the parking lots at parks such as Buford Dam and West Bank to be filled before noon, said Chris Lovelady, assistant operations project manager with the Corps of Engineers. "Crowd control has become a bigger issue for us," he said.

Typically, the corps has but one officer assigned to a park, including the busiest ones, Lovelady told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The ranger who was assaulted had been reassigned from shoreline duties to help deal with the raucous crowds.

Lately, rangers have been tested by a growing number of "unauthorized" parties, Lovelady said.

"We're seeing more and more folks renting out their houseboats to people who throw large parties, either on an island or sometimes at the parks," he said. "That's something we haven't had to deal with before."

County Sheriff's deputies assist in patrolling the parks but are unable to maintain a constant presence.

"That's just one part of their jurisdiction, so our deputies can't devote all their time to the parks," Wilbanks said.

"The parks attract people of all kinds, good and bad," he said."There's just more of them now."

And fewer law enforcement officers to deal with them.