‘Gators spotted at Millpond

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 21, 2005

GATESVILLE – Visitors and park rangers recently got a real hint that warmer weather is on the way when one of the resident alligators at Merchant’s Millpond State Park was spotted.

The seven-foot ‘gator was seen lying on an old cypress log, fallen in the amber-colored waters of the Millpond. The huge creature held no fear of its observers, but instead continued to lie there as if he owned the Millpond.

That’s why Park Superintendent Jay Greenwood urging everyone not to approach any of the alligators seen in the pond.

&uot;Alligators are very docile when not harassed or fed,&uot; said Greenwood. &uot;They are very beneficial creatures in that they help control invasive animal species such as nutria and resident geese.&uot;

Greenwood added that Merchant’s Millpond and its visitors are fortunate to be able to view one of nature’s few large predators left on earth.

&uot;Alligators are reptiles and they once were as far north as Virginia Beach, but were hunted to near extinction,&uot; said the ranger. &uot;They have slowly recovered under the endangered species act and are now returning to their natural range, which includes Northeastern North Carolina.&uot;

Greenwood added the alligators can be seen at the Millpond in the spring and fall, but he had a word of caution for everyone.

&uot;Please do not get too close, harass or feed them,&uot; he said. &uot;This will ensure both your safety and the alligators’ safety.&uot;

Park Ranger Jane Wyche is responsible for several programs at the Millpond, including educating students about the historic site. She recently hosted Central Middle School’s visit, and there are numerous field days throughout the year. She said the students always try to spot the alligators.

&uot;There are at least three that we know of and they stay pretty close to their home, an old beaver lodge,&uot; said Wyche. &uot;We just urge people not to approach them because they are good sized ‘gators. They say you can judge the length of the ‘gator by the number of inches between his eyes and nose, but who wants to get that close!&uot;

Wyche added that feeding an alligator makes them even more dangerous to man and beast alike.

&uot;Right now, they feed themselves, but if you start feeding them, they will begin to approach humans looking for handouts,&uot; said Wyche. &uot;You definitely do not want these creatures to approach you.&uot;

There are many activities at the Millpond including hiking and canoeing. Rent a canoe for five dollars for the first hour and three dollars for each additional hour.

Hikers will find trails clearly marked and easily accessible from the ranger station, which can be reached by entering off US 158. There is a beautiful picnic pavilion available and it is large enough to accommodate gatherings. Fishing is also available at the park, with a license.

Merchant’s Millpond State Park is about to undergo a major facelift beginning with a 6,500 square foot Visitors Center.

The visitor’s center will have many exhibits, including one dealing with its history.

The park staff is looking for people with memories of the old mill to interview and create a history of the time between 1920 and 1950.

For more information please call the Merchant’s Millpond State Park office between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at 252-357-1191.