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New Signs Warn Of Wheeler Refuge Alligators
By Mike Bolton
Posted Thursday October 26 2017, 11:19 AM
Signs like this one are now appearing on the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge.
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While visiting the Wheeler National Refuge, Decatur’s Kenneth Stuart has seen kayakers and adults on stand-up paddleboards. He’s seen kids in knee-high water. He’s seen fishermen putting their hands in the water to retrieve fish.

He’s also seen 12- and 13-foot alligators.

“I woke up one night in a cold sweat,” he said. “I have a 14-year-old grandson who goes to the refuge. There were no signs up on the refuge warning people about alligators. I thought the public should know.”

Thus began an odyssey for Stuart where he says he encountered indifference and a lot of red tape.

“I went to the director and realized I was fighting a losing battle,” Stuart said. “He was retiring at the end of the year, and he wasn’t interested. When the new director came in, I called.

“He said, yes, we have alligators, but we don’t know how many or what size. He said he would draft a sign, but we would have to have them made, pay for them and put them up.”

Stuart found that the signs had to be worded exactly, be in federally approved colors and could only be manufactured by a firm in New York that is contracted to make signs for the refuge. They could only be erected on approved poles.

Stuart began a grass-roots effort. He got volunteers. He got the city of Priceville to put up $500 for the first signs. He ordered 50 signs and starting putting them up at boat ramps and other areas that were easy to get to. He is now interviewing fishermen and finding out where they have seen alligators on the refuge.

He said he wants also to see signs at Point Mallard, a popular tourist attraction, and Redstone Arsenal, both of which border the refuge.

“The public needs to know about the alligators,” he said. “They’ve been there 40 years, and there has never been a sign. You saw what happened at Disneyworld. We’re extremely lucky no one has been injured or killed.
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