Supervisor at Fort De Soto reflects on 40 years watching over county parks

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Ask anyone who frequents Fort De Soto Park; chances are they know Jim Wilson. He has been the supervisor there since 1998, but his time with county parks goes back 40 years.

Now the man synonymous with sea birds and sea turtles is ready to retire, but don't expect him to ride off into the sunset.

"How many people are on the beach? How many kids? How many guards are in stands? Flags flying? Did they do their beach scan today? Any stingrays yet?" Wilson said, running through his daily mental checklist.

He started at Fort De Soto back in 1975 and, with the exception of a five-year hiatus, the park has been his home ever since. He wakes up at 4:30 every morning to check on what's nesting and what's hatching.

He said he will miss the routine and the animals as much as the people.

"He loves the park, but he loves to teach people about the park. He loves to teach children and adults how to respect nature as he does. I think I'll miss that the most," said former park ranger and head of Friends of Fort De Soto, Rhonda Omslaer.

Seabird researcher Beth Forys is losing her citizen scientist.

"Jim is a natural scientist, really. He can take the science and combine it with management. He can find that sweet spot between managing people and managing the natural environment," she said.

With two million visitors a year, that is quite a balancing act.

"Lots of memories. He's going to be missed," said photographer Kathy Finnerty, who has known Wilson since 1990. "Mostly his dedication to the animals he loves"

She has documented many rescues over the years.

Wilson says he will always do that, no matter where he is, but like the people who come here to stroll this world-famous beach, he's ready to slow down just a little bit.

"I'm sure I'll get a call every once in a while from the guys and the thing is I'll get to choose if I want to answer. Now I don't get that choice. I answer," Wilson said.

Jim and his wife plan to retire in Citrus County along the Withlacoochee River. His last day at Fort De Soto is July 31.

He says he will be in his office for people to stop by and say goodbye or let him know what they think of his tenure -- good and bad.