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Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA - Sandra Pryor has a 178-acre back yard complete with 1 1/2 miles of paved trail, a gymnasium, a water park, pavilion, playground, fishing lake, pastoral fields and baseball fields.
Not bad on a police officer's salary.
Pryor, a sergeant in the Gwinnett County Police Department, is one of seven officers who live for free in a home on county parkland in exchange for keeping a watchful eye on the property.
"This is paradise," Pryor said Tuesday as she looked across a grassy expanse dotted with oak trees and park benches.
Gwinnett County, which this year won a national award for having the best park system, manages more than 8,000 of acres of parkland - more than any other county in metro Atlanta.
Sharon Plunkett, the director of Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation, said resident officers aren't as necessary in the active parks, where organized sports leagues play in ball fields and children frolic in playgrounds. The presence of so many park visitors tends to deter unsavory activities.
However, the resident officers have been indispensable for maintaining safety in passive parks, where hiking, biking and equestrian trails wind through thousands of acres of undisturbed woodlands.
"It helps us provide more eyes and ears, especially during the off-hours and weekends," explained Phil Hoskins, director of the Gwinnett County Department of Community Services.
Six parks already have a resident officer: Lenora Park, Graves Park, Little Mulberry Park, McDaniel Farm Park, Yellow River Park and Vines Gardens. A seventh resident officer will soon move into Harbins Park in Dacula, a 1,900-acre tract that will be the county's largest park when it opens this spring.
The cost for the program is minimal.
It costs the county only about $620 a year to maintain the houses, which in most cases already existed on the property, Plunkett said. There are two exceptions - Harbins Park and McDaniel Farm Park - where a house was relocated to the park from a land acquisition elsewhere.
By contrast, it would cost about $70,000 a year to hire an officer to perform an hour of patrols a day in the six parks.
Pryor was the first officer chosen through a careful selection process to live inside a park in 1996 as part of a pilot program. She and her pets - a dog and innumerable cats - live in a small house tucked away on the edge of Lenora Park near Snellville.
Duties for resident officers vary according to the park. The officers may issue verbal warnings or tickets for improper use of the park. Typical infractions are being in the park after hours, hunting, fishing, riding all-terrain vehicles and letting dogs run off the leash.
Pryor patrols Lenora Park on foot or bicycle for 30 minutes before and after her shift at the police department. She's a familiar face in the park, where pool lifeguards and youth sports organizers know her by name. They even keep her phone number handy, should an emergency arise, she said.
Maj. Carl Moulder of the Gwinnett County Police Department is another resident officer who's delighted with his two-bedroom nest in Little Mulberry Park near Dacula. The former caretaker's cottage is on a hill, its large windows overlooking a 50-acre lake.
"I have a house that is just to die for," Moulder said.
For Moulder, who dreamed of being a park ranger as a child, the arrangement is ideal. He patrols the park at least twice daily and closes the gates each night. Moulder's lifestyle has become so active that he's lost 20 pounds since moving in three years ago.
After dusk, he is privy to a world not seen by visitors.
The deer, snakes, bats, coyotes and other wild animals emerge. Moulder grabs his bicycle for a quick lap around the lake to make sure everyone has gone home most nights, savoring the changing scenery along the way.
"I love it. It's an opportunity to see the park how others may not get to see it," Moulder said.
For Moulder, living in a vast park means forgoing a few modern conveniences, such as a dishwasher and central heating and air conditioning. He gets satellite TV instead of cable, uses a septic system instead of sewer and a propane gas tank instead of hooking into a natural gas line for heating and cooking. Moulder also uses a post office box, because the mail carrier doesn't come to his home. A few weeks ago, he tried to get a UPS package delivered to his home.
"They couldn't find it," Moulder said.
Fortunately, the school bus stops at the top of Moulder's dirt driveway to pick up his 16-year-old son, who is a student at Mill Creek High School.
Moulder said his son has yet to fully appreciate their undeveloped haven.
"I try to encourage him to get out and ride with me or go for a walk, but he's more into Xbox," Moulder said. "He hasn't fallen in love with

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