James D. "Dave" Wilkins was born in Gainesville, Florida, in 1945. He was raised in Palatka (close to St. Augustine) until he left for boarding school near Knoxville, Tennessee, where he graduated from high school. After high school, Dave worked for a couple of years before he was recruited into the Marine Corps in 1965. Dave served in the Marines and worked on aircraft missile systems for thee years. He also spent one year in Vietnam. After serving in the military, Dave moved back to Florida, where he attended college at the University of Florida and studied plant sciences and worked at Eckerd Drug Corporation. Dave moved to Atlanta in 1976, where he worked in middle management for Eckerd Drugs.
Dave then happened upon a job announcement that he found in the local employment office for a seasonal employee position with National Park Service at Chattahoochee River NRA. Dave applied for the job and was hired as a seasonal employee for three years before he was hired into a permanent position.
Dave’s first job with the NPS in 1983 was to work on the rehabilitation of the Hewlett Lodge headquarters as well as the Ops Building at Chattahoochee River. After that was completed, he worked with Southeast Region doing preservation work in various locations. He worked at the Martin Luther King Historic Site for one year, restoring old shotgun houses at the MLK birth home area. In the winter of 1985, he worked with the Southeast Region preservation crew to rehabilitate the lighthouse keeper's quarters at the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.
Dave also worked on wildfire assignments all over the United States, from Kentucky to Washington State to Montana. He rounded off his career with an emergency response up to New York to work on the Hurricane Sandy incident for two weeks in November 2012.
Dave worked at Chattahoochee River NRA during his entire career with the National Park service. One of the best things about his job, he recalled, was that it was varied and every day was different. His work in the maintenance division was not glamorous, but it was necessary to keep all the facilities operational and looking good – “it keeps our park patrons happy.”
When asked what he would miss most about working at the park, Dave responded that he would miss his fellow employees the most. “I’ll miss everyone here. Your fellow employees are the heart and soul of the service. You have to look after each other in order to survive. It's a team effort.” Dave always enjoyed the camaraderie at the park.
Dave's most memorable moment with the NPS came when he was working on a fire out west in the Rocky Mountains in northwest Montana. He and his crew hiked up the mountain above the treeline. At the top of the mountain, “standing up there, you could see forever and I thought to myself, here we are with this magnificent view and we are getting PAID to do it!” They were working hard, but having a great time out west.
Dave and his wife Janet were married in 1989 and moved into park housing. They lived in the seasonal quarters for two years until they moved out and bought a home. Janet and Dave have a daughter, Ellen, who lives in Las Vegas, and twins (Katy and Zach) who attend college at North Georgia College in Dahlonega. Katy is in nursing school and Zach is majoring in business management as well as serving in the Marine Corps reserves.
When asked what his plans were for retirement, Dave replied, “You have to ask my wife!” He has some projects around the home that need to be completed, some yard work (lots of plants to put out and landscaping). Dave hopes to continue working with the NPS in some capacity and intends to volunteer at his church. He would like to travel some to visit his brothers and sisters in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Last, but not least, Dave said that he would like to sharpen his golf game – it’s been a while.