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  • Writer's pictureRaeford Brown

Onslow Gators

Growing up ‘round these parts, I heard stories that alligators were once a common site in the New River, especially in the backwaters along French’s Creek, Northeast Creek, and Southwest Creek. Inside an old country store where we stopped for a “Co-Cola” from time to time in Verona, those gators were bigger than huge… “14 to 20 footers, they were. The “family” of Browns from Onslow and New Hanover Counties were water people. Not by profession, save for a couple, but because of our recreational times.

I did have an uncle who was a professional boat captain, running charter boats out of Wrightsville Beach, moving on up to big yachts owned by millionaires up North, traveling from Yankee Land to Ft. Lauderdale every fall so the rich could fly down, fish for a week or two in the Bahamas, then return to their snow covered yards. And, in the late 1800’s, my great grandfather had a handwritten contract with the state of North Carolina to provide ferry service from what is now Camp Lejeune across the New River to Sneads Ferry. Yep... there was, indeed, a real ferry at what we know as Sneads Ferry.

Another uncle and his business partner opened up what became and is still known as Old Ferry Marina. No campground at the time, just a marina with dock spaces.

We heard those stories about the big gators, and I remember, as a tike, seeing gator skulls in that little country store in Verona. BIG gators, they were, as the stories go.

Other than family trips to Florida where we stopped at stores that had ponds filled with alligators, and TV shows that featured men who wrestled (or was it “wrassled” gators, mixed in with the tabloid stories of alligators attacking people all over Florida, I had never seen one in the wild.

Over the last 15 years since I returned to Onslow Country, things have changed. I have seen a heap of alligators. At one time, they were protected. Well, during that time, the boy and girl gators got together and apparently produced a BUNCH of alligators.

They are everywhere. I, personally, have seen them in the SURF along southern North Carolina beaches. Lots of other people have seen them, too. I watched one swim through the gentle surf at Fort Fisher, down in New Hanover County, walk onto the beach, take a rest, then swim back into the ocean. And, I had witnesses. Wish I could find the pictures I took at the time

The gators are being forced out of their habitats in the back swamps. They show up on golf courses, they come out of the New River to soak up some “rays”, taking a rest on docks in downtown Jacksonville. And, some of them get to be a “pretty good size” as I hear from locals.

A few years back, a 12 footer grabbed a large dog being walked along Mill Creek in Northwoods.

The alligators are here. And, there’s nothing you can, or should, do to intervene. Though they’re no longer “protected” as they once were, it is still illegal to feed them, capture them, or kill them in Onslow County. Because of their sheer numbers, the state has allowed counties who have petitions from residents who would like to hunt and kill a limited number of the gators to petition the state to open a limited hunting season. However, since that law was adopted, not one person has applied to the Board of Commissioners in Onslow requesting an open season.

I am not a fan of killing for the sake of killing. That includes alligators. If challenged or threatened, or a gator thinks my 8 pound dog looks delicious, I will not hesitate to protect us.

I do LOVE gator gumbo, have eaten a LOT of in when visiting Memphis, have not issue killing for food, but I am probably too old to even think of actually doing it. Too much work. Meanwhile, I will continue not feeding the reptiles, and I will continue taking their pictures.

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