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story.lead_photo.caption Ed Thomas of Mountain View stands on a trail near the visitor center at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, near Little Rock. Thomas was named the emergency services program coordinator for the Arkansas State Parks in July. He is in charge of security for all 52 state parks in Arkansas. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

Ed Thomas said he gained a love for the outdoors from his father.

Thomas, of Mountain View, was named the emergency services program coordinator for Arkansas State Parks in July.

“It’s something that started with my dad when I was a kid,” Thomas said. “He was always a big outdoorsman and spent a lot of time with me, trying to teach me respect for the outdoors. I’ve always enjoyed that.”

While Thomas is a hunter and a fisherman, he enjoys taking photos while outdoors.

“I’m more of a picture taker,” he said. “My favorite thing to do is to show people pictures of things during deer season. I’d take pictures of bigger deer and show other folks what was out there.

“I also love getting out on the water, kayaking with my wife. I do quite a bit of that. If we have time, we’ll walk a trail, just to be outside.”

Thomas, who was an assistant superintendent at Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View for 18 months, is working in Little Rock as the emergency services program coordinator for the state parks.

“I work with all law enforcement and our 52 parks across the state, as well as any kind of emergency services with those officers,” Thomas said. “Anytime they need help or resources, I do what I can to help them. They are the real team out there. I’m just the guy on the computer facilitating whatever they might need.”

While working at the Ozark Folk Center, Thomas was in charge of many things at the facility, including being the supervisor over security and the firing range.

“That’s where we do a lot of our training for the parks department,” he said. “With security, our team will check doors and drive buses, handle money and check fire extinguishers, among other things.”

Thomas came to Mountain View after working 10 years as a park ranger for Bull Shoals-White River State Park in Baxter County.

“It was a bigger-classification park,” Thomas said, referring to coming to Mountain View. I was always pushed to learn more about the parks system. They had an opportunity for me to go down there. I met with the superintendent, John Morrow. He pushed for me to come there, and I accepted the invitation to come and talk with him.”

Thomas said he and his wife, Tammy, liked the area so much that they bought a house there.

“We both liked the area and liked the music and liked the culture of the park,” he said. “We decided to come down and see if we could live somewhere else besides Baxter County. We also liked the friendliness of the people. I really like the hills of the Ozarks. We found a church home pretty quickly after moving. I was overwhelmed with how nice the people are there and how much they invested in us. We just decided it was a place for us to retire and stay.”

Even though Thomas’ new job is in Little Rock, he still considers Mountain View his home.

“I still love it there,” he said. “I decided I’d like to make roots there. Even though my office is in Little Rock, I still drive home on weekends.”

Thomas does not have an apartment in central Arkansas.

“I do what I can to stay in the parks, either camping or staying in one of our seasonal ranger campers or houses in the parks system,” he said. “I’ve only stayed in a couple of parks so far, but I plan on expanding that.”

Morrow said Thomas will do well in his new role in Little Rock.

“Ed Thomas is definitely an asset to Arkansas State Parks, especially in this role,” Morrow said. “He has the experience and awareness that the position requires.”

Thomas is a 1984 graduate of Springdale High School. He moved to Mountain Home in 1987 and started his career in law enforcement.

“I have roughly 31 years in law enforcement and public service,” he said, adding that he worked for the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Mountain Home Police Department, where he served for 16 years. He also volunteered with the Mountain Home Fire Department.

Before going to work with state parks, Thomas served three years and three months with a private security company, supporting the federal government overseas.

“I read a book, Who Moved My Cheese? (by Spencer Johnson),” Thomas said. “It was an evaluation book. It talks about not waiting around until all your cheese is gone, so to speak.

“About this time, I thought there might be something else out there, a bigger thing I could go do and try and experience and see if there was more cheese out there.”

Thomas was stationed in Iraq.

“I worked my way up through the ranks until I was regional commander at the end,” he said. “We did whatever we could to make sure the mission of the government was successful and make sure we did support them in that mission.”

Thomas decided to come home and put his love for the outdoors to good use.

“I was always camping at Bull Shoals until about 10 years ago,” Thomas said. “I became a Master Gardener, and I had done landscape stuff as side work. I started volunteering as a Master Gardener there. One job led into another.”

Thomas was hired as a ranger at Bull Shoals in 2009.

“I had just come back from overseas, and I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore,” he said. “That didn’t work out. I’ve tried to enjoy all the parks that I could, and this was a good way for me to pass on some knowledge of what I’ve done.”

Thomas describes his new job as a movement job.

“I’m over 52 parks of law enforcement, but my main office is in Little Rock,” he said. “The job entails me going into different parks. The state was interested in me passing on some of my knowledge and training. I was interested to be able to be free to talk to all the rangers in the different parks and support them in whatever they might need.”

State Parks Deputy Director Shea Lewis said Thomas is an asset to the department.

“He has years of boots-on-the-ground experience, both in Arkansas and the Middle East,” Lewis said. “His strong leadership skills make him the perfect fit for this very important job.”

Thomas said he has no plans to retire anytime soon.

“I have enough time to retire, but I don’t see me doing that,” he said. “I like to go, and I like to be challenged. I’m going to stay as long as they allow me to stay here and support our people to do what we can to make the parks system as safe as it can be and family-oriented.

“I’m going to do my best.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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