Fort De Soto Park celebrated its 50th anniversary Saturday with a beach party featuring live music, wildlife demonstrations, a water-ski show and food. The 1,100-acre park was dedicated May 11, 1963, on the site of a former military outpost. The fort structure and its living quarters remain as a centerpiece. “This park is probably the most visited park in Pinellas County and probably in the state,” said Rhonda Omslaer, president of Friends of Fort De Soto, a volunteer group that helps take care of park. The park allowed free admission during the morning hours before the event, which also featured a rededication ceremony. Last year, the county began charging $5 to park.
Since its opening, Fort De Soto has been recognized as being among the best beach destinations in the country. In addition to the beaches and fort, there two fishing piers with bait shops, picnic shelters, camping, a dog park, nature trail and other outdoor activities. “It's one of the places that's keeping its natural beauty and habit,” Omslaer said. “It's another place where they can see real Florida, natural Florida.”