Steve's Blog: Gators frighten and sadden this reporter - - The News for South Mississippi

Steve's Blog: Gators frighten and sadden this reporter

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  • Man passionate about preserving Turkey Creek waterway & community

    Man passionate about preserving Turkey Creek waterway & community

    Friday, May 7 2010 12:10 PM EDT2010-05-07 16:10:51 GMT
    Friday, May 7 2010 3:57 PM EDT2010-05-07 19:57:59 GMT
    By Steve Phillips – bio | email GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -  He founded the group Turkey Creek Community Initiatives and has worked tirelessly to preserve and promote his hometown community. Derrick Evans not only raised awareness about Turkey Creek on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he thrust it onto the national stage, testifying before Congress and appearing on network news programs. He is a soft spoken man who passionately shares his message with whoever will listen. Evans h...More >>
    Derrick Evans is passionate about the community he grew up in. He wants to be certain that Turkey Creek is protected from the commercial development that's threatened to encroach the Gulfport neighborhood in years past. He also says the creek itself is a beautiful waterway that needs to be protected and promoted.More >>
  • Forklift removes giant alligator from Brickyard Bayou

    Forklift removes giant alligator from Brickyard Bayou

    Friday, May 7 2010 10:06 AM EDT2010-05-07 14:06:31 GMT
    Friday, May 7 2010 6:49 PM EDT2010-05-07 22:49:29 GMT
    By Steve Phillips – bio | email GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - They used heavy rope, a large roll of duct tape and a fork lift. That's what it took Friday morning for alligator trappers to capture and remove two large gators from Gulfport's Brickyard Bayou. Nervous neighbors watched from a safe distance as veteran trapper Sam Searcy and his team went to work. "Yeah, that's a big one," said one resident, armed with a digital camera. How does one remove a 12 foot...More >>
    Alligator trappers removed two very large gators from Gulfport's Brickyard Bayou Friday, including a nearly 13 footer. Nervous neighbors watched as the giant gator began a violent roll in the water while trappers were trying to pull it ashore. Once subdued, the alligator had its mouth secured shut with duct tape.More >>
  • Turkey Creek neighbors treat each other "just like family"

    Turkey Creek neighbors treat each other "just like family"

    Thursday, May 6 2010 5:19 PM EDT2010-05-06 21:19:01 GMT
    Thursday, May 6 2010 7:23 PM EDT2010-05-06 23:23:18 GMT
    By Steve Phillips – bio | email GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Turkey Creek is both a scenic waterway and a deep-rooted Gulfport community. It also happens to be located near one of the busiest commercial corridors in the entire Southeast. Several years before Hurricane Katrina, a young man named Derrick Evans began a grass roots effort to help preserve and promote Turkey Creek. We first met Derrick Evans at a smart growth conference, where he'd set-up a modest display ...More >>
    Turkey Creek residents consider themselves like one big family. And in fact, many of them are related by blood.  But nearly as strong as any family lineage, is the community bond that exists between neighbors. They all shared similar experiences growing up along the meandering waterway, called Turkey Creek.More >>

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Recent assignments have me thinking about alligator encounters.

I've had close-up experiences with a trio of gators over the past couple of weeks.

As many of you know, I'm an avid kayaker. There are few things I enjoy more than gliding through the waters of Davis Bayou, the Pascagoula River, or a relaxing paddle out to nearby Deer Island.

Even though I've been kayaking for some eight years or so, I can probably count on one hand the number of alligators I've seen from my kayak.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not naive enough to think the gators haven't been around (I'm quite sure I've gone over the top of them) it's just that I haven't seen them that often.

And that's part of what makes this first story so memorable.

I was shooting a story about Turkey Creek in Gulfport. The story was for a special report that focused both on Turkey Creek the historic, African-American community and Turkey Creek, the hidden gem of a waterway that meanders through the city of Gulfport.

Thanks to my kayak trip down Turkey Creek the waterway, I can confirm the stories of residents who've talked about some "big gators" making their home along the creek.

I was hoping to kayak the creek with Derrick Evans, the history teacher turned community activist who I interviewed for my report. However, Derrick had to catch a plane to D.C. that late afternoon; so I was left to kayak the creek on my own.

First, left me tell you that Turkey Creek is one of the most scenic waterways I've ever had the pleasure to paddle. It is quite comparable to the natural beauty of the Pascagoula River, one of my favorite kayak spots.

I put in at Gulfport Lake, then paddled the slow moving waterway southward, past Airport Road. It was on my relaxing return trip to the lake that I apparently startled Mr. Gator.

I had just finished shooting some video (so my camera wasn't running) and was simply enjoying paddling back toward the lake. Suddenly, I heard a rustling in the marsh grass along the back to my left. A split second later, a very large alligator came charging out of the swampy shoreline. And I do mean charging. Apparently, I frightened the gator even more than he scared me to death.

The ten-foot-plus animal dove head first into the waters directly in front of my kayak.

Once I assured myself that my heart was in fact still beating, I proceeded to pick up the pace of my paddling. It increased exponentially, in fact.  If it's possible for a kayak to glide atop the water, I think my 13 and a half footer was airborne at that instance.

When I'd paddled a sufficient distance away from the site of the startling encounter, I paused to catch my breath, collect my thoughts and replay that brush with Mr. Gator. It is forever embedded in my mind; that split second when I made eye contact with a frightened alligator who could have overturned my kayak if he wanted to.

Thankfully, after his dive into the water, he didn't surface. Again, I think I may have scared him as well.

Gator encounters number two and three happened a few days later along the banks of Brickyard Bayou.

Gator trapper, Sam Searcy, had responded to a complaint call about a nuisance gator. By the time I arrived, he and his trapper team already had one 10 foot gator tied to a dock post and another 13 footer with a lasso around his snout.

Needless to say, this late morning excitement had also attracted a group of curious, wide eyed neighbors with anxious grins and cell phone cameras at the ready.

Sam and his team prepared to pull "the big one" to the shore, but the big fella wasn't too keen on the idea. Once they tightened the line and pulled, Mr. Gator thrashed about in the water, rolling and splashing and causing the trapper team to collect its breath and bear down a little harder on the lasso rope.

Finally, several burly men were able to overcome the "nuisance gator." He was wrestled ashore, his giant snout quickly secured shut with good old duct tape.

You see, while gators can exert enormous pressure snapping shut those large jaws, they have little muscle power to open their mouth if someone is holding it shut.

The trapper crew used a fork lift to hoist the 800 pound beast from the water's edge. He was then dragged to a waiting ten foot trailer, which wasn't long enough to hold his enormous tail.

Tape measure applied; the big guy registered 12 feet, 9 inches. Trapper Searcy estimates he weighed a good 800 pounds and was 65 to 70 years old.

End of story, almost.

I'd love to tell you that the trappers re-located the big gators and they're adjusting to and enjoying their new home in the secluded swamp somewhere. Truth is, reality is sometimes a harsh awakening.

The big gators would be killed. The crime for their death sentence?  They frightened the folks living along Brickyard Bayou.

Now don't get me wrong, it's not necessarily the neighbors fault the gators met their demise. After all, I would rather be doing this story than doing a story about the toddler who got too close to the water's edge; too close to a giant gator that had grown a little too friendly with people (folks feeding this gator perhaps?)

Apparently, the state's policy allows the trapper to kill the gator in such instances, collecting money for the hide and meat.

My gator trapping story found its way to CNN and was broadcast to a national audience. I received some subsequent emails; several folks complaining about the unnecessary killings of these impressive giants.

I share the concern. The gators were simply doing what gators do.

Of the two stories, I prefer my own frightening encounter with the large gator on Turkey Creek, to the Brickyard Bayou gator that was hog tied, mouth taped and loaded onto a trailer, awaiting its unpleasant fate.

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