Published on : Tuesday, January 4, 2022
As Jay Young rolls his pants up and steps into the muddy pond, Elvis produces a harsh hissing sound like a pressurized water hose cleaning out a barrel.
Young taps the 12-foot-long, 600-pound alligator’s snout and the gnarly armoured creature lunges forward, toothy maw wide.
“He still wants to eat me after all these years,” says Young, skilfully dodging Elvis, a gator his father acquired in 1987 as a wee thing to help eat piles of fish guts.
Elvis was among the first residents of the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. It’s a geothermal oasis in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristos. In Colorado, the San Luis Valley attraction ranks among the oddest to lure visitors about 40,000 a year to one of the only alligator refuge outside the South and Texas in the country.
At Colorado Gators, there are roughly 270 alligators spread across 80 acres of land, along with two Nile crocodiles and a couple of spectacled caimans. In 1977, Young’s dad, Erwin Young, had bought this acreage and started farming tilapia in 87-degree pools filled from geothermal wells. Overwhelmed by the carcasses of filleted fish, after almost a decade, Youngs bought a bunch of alligators to serve as sort of a natural garbage disposal.
It didn’t take long for the gators to draw visitors. As a result, the business plan of Young moved away from selling fish. (He’s still farming fish, but as food for gators, not people.) Today, Jay Young travels the country saving all sorts of alligators, pythons, tortoises and iguanas.
“It’s such a cool story with how it started and the innovation over there,” says Kale Mortensen, the director of Visit Alamosa, which counts the gator park among its top draws. “It’s definitely a big part of our tourism economy.”
Tags: Gator Park