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Gator watch: Alligators sighted in Lehigh canals

July 31, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

For the past few weeks, there has been a noticeable absence of young children and teenagers who jump off the bridge across the Abel Canal on Connecticut Road and at least one neighbor who lives at the foot of the bridge says he's happy about the lack activity.

The reason, he says he believes, may be that the children saw some alligators in the water or even up on dry land along the banks and that scared them off.

For most of June on hot and sultry days, several youngsters swam in the waters near the bridge and others jumped off the bridge while others were seen fishing for bass and Thalapia.

Article Photos

Ken Ginter

It's the same bridge that has been giving the Sheriff's Office and East County Water Control District, which maintains the bridge, headaches due to the illegal use of graffiti on the bridge in recent months and years.

"No I haven't seen the kids much around here for the past three weeks or so. I know they have been using that bridge to jump off of and it is worrisome to me because I would hate to see a kids get hurt. I don't imagine the water is any deeper in the middle than eight to 10 feet and who knows what can happen," Ginter said from his home which located on the corner of Jefferson Drive and Connecticut Road. Has he seen any alligators there?

"Yep, I've seen a few from time to time and if they are on the banks, my lawn mower will scare them away and they run for the water in the canal. During mating season, you may see more alligators," he said.

He said he has seen "alligator nests" in the runoff pipes near both sides of the bridge.

"There's rocks down there and that is where I have seen some of the younger alligators after they have been born. When they get larger, they leave the area because the space is small in those pipes," he said.

It doesn't hurt the feelings of David Lindsay, who runs the East County Water Control District, that the kids are staying away from the bridge.

"Even though the state's environmental department calls the canals 'swimmable' we still urge residents to use caution along any of our canals," Lindsay said.

"Not only is there the possibility of alligators in any of the canals in Lehigh and we have 311 miles of canals, there are other reasons, such as boulders and rocks being used in some of the canals to help control the water.

"Anyone using the canals to boat in or swim in should always be careful," he said.

Lindsay said the water control district, which maintains the canals, the culprits and other devices, have posted signs in different areas asking people not to swim, he said no sooner are the signs put up, someone vandals them and takes them down.

"But I have to say to anyone who swims or dives into our canals, they don't know what is in them and it may not always be smart to romp in the canals," he said.

As for the bridge across the Abel Canal on Connecticut Road, it has become their responsibility to keep the bridge bright and white with pressure cleaning and fresh paint - especially if the Sheriff's Office calls them and informs them of graffiti on the bridge.

And there was graffiti on the bridge just after school closed, said Ginter, whose house is close to the bridge.

"It was funny because they came out here and cleaned up the bridge and painted the bridge and then school let out. I thought it was almost an open invitation for kids to use their spray cans for graffiti," he said.

Ginter says in the past - has lived at the property for about four years - he has called the Sheriff's Office when he has spotted alligators and they tell him that is not their responsibility, that they should call another agency. And Ginter says in past years he has called the water control district, too.

"I think there should be signs there along the bridge and at the water's edge for no swimming and no diving off the bridge. Not only are there alligators from time to time, but not knowing how deep the canal is at any given time also poses dangers," he said. With the recent rains, Abel Canal is filled and its beauty can be observed standing on the bridge and looking both directors.

But the ECWCD controls the amount of water that flows into the canals and out of the canals during the rainy season, Lindsay said.

Ginter's nephew, Chris Bowers, who is 23, lives with uncle and he says he has seen the alligators and he has also seen something even worse - otters.

"There's plenty of otters in the canal here and they can be dangerous with their claws. They are sizeable creatures and you don't want to get messed up with one of them.

"I've seen alligators come out of the canal and hide themselves under my uncles orange tree, along the canal," Bowers said.

Ginter moved to Lehigh from up north where he spent his life working in the telecommunications field, ending up as a supervisor in new Jersey.

The East County Water Control District maintains the land for several feel on either side of the canals and Ginter said the water district does a wonderful job in keeping the grass cut.

Lindsay said that ECWCD employees cut the grass and maintain the bridge and others in Lehigh with the help of prisoners who are close to being released. He said those trustees however are not allowed to talk on people's properties along the canals.

"The canal is nice, but you want to keep your eyes open," laughed Chris Bowers. I know because I have seen alligators and I've seen those creepy otters and they are something to deal with if they get close to you. They will right out of the water, too, so you have to be careful."

As far as the absence of children swimming in the canal and other diving and fishing from the canal, it has been noticed since The Citizen received an unsigned letter that said he (the writer) had spotted two alligators by the bridge on Connecticut Rd.

"They were by an open drain where they could get into the street. Who do you call" There were eight to 10 children jumping off this bridge near Jefferson Ave and swimming and fishing.

"This is dangerous. They were on June 18 and again on June 28. I am a concerned citizen and wonder when will they start valuing human life?

"People should never feed those alligators either," warned homeowner Ken Ginter. If they do, there is going to be a problem. I hope they are not feeding them up near Williams Rd.," he said.



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