This NC town hopes to attract more tourists - by letting them kill alligators

The eastern North Carolina town of Lake Waccamaw is seeking to host alligator hunts this year, for the tourism dollars.
The eastern North Carolina town of Lake Waccamaw is seeking to host alligator hunts this year, for the tourism dollars.

A North Carolina community that was recently named one of the "best small lake towns in America" says it wants to host the state's first alligator hunt in nearly 45 years.

The town board of Lake Waccamaw voted unanimously to be the first apply for the hunt, which would run from Sept. 1 to Oct. 1.

It's also the only town to apply so far.

Town Manager Harry Foley says board member had a variety of motives, but most seemed to believe this could be the town's big chance to gain a little tourism notoriety, as well as a boost to the local economy. Sports outfitters are already starting to call, he says.

"We have 950 residences and each one could be considered a potential hunting ground. But I assure you that won't happen," Foley told the Charlotte Observer. "Public opinion is mostly not in favor of the hunting season. Some feel we've coexisted with them (alligators) for so long, why start hunting them now? But others think of it as sport."

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One thing Foley wants to make clear: The town has not had an incident in which an alligator threatened a human. They do occasionally crawl out of canals into people's backyards, he says, but state officials come when called and take the animals away.

"Alligators shy away from people unless someone tries to feed them, and people who are long-time residents know not to do that," he said.

Last year, Country Living magazine included Lake Waccamaw in a list of the nation's "The 25 Best Small Lake Towns in America." Some believe that standing could be boosted if the hunt is established and outfitters begin operating in the town of about 1,500 people.

State officials told the Charlotte Observer they will work with Lake Waccamaw to determine how many alligators live there and identify areas in the town where a hunt might be suitable. Alligators living in the town's adjacent Lake Waccamaw State Park would not be part of the hunt, officials said.

Hunters would also need individual permits to pursue alligators in the town, and property owners would need permits to host a hunt on their land.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recently approved an N.C. Alligator Management Plan, with goals of alligator conservation, education and research, and also to “provide opportunities for public enjoyment of alligators through hunting.”

However, Lake Waccamaw is the only town that has shown an interest in participating. In fact, the Brunswick County town of Belville went in the opposite direction, passing a resolution opposing alligator hunting within its town limits, reported the Jacksonville Daily News.

“Alligators were almost hunted to extinction, and now they’re back,” Belville Mayor Mike Allen told the Daily News. "I’m glad to see that, so we want to make sure that preservation continues within our town limits."

Alligator hunting in North Carolina had been outlawed since 1973. Hunting them was illegal in the United States from the time Congress passed the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Alligators were removed from the endangered species list in 1987, reported the Raleigh News & Observer.

Communities in 10 counties are eligible to apply for a hunt: New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Onslow, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Hyde, Jones, and Pamlico, reports the Port City Daily. All are in a part of the state where alligators roam lakes, rivers and canals. Males can get up to 13 feet long and weigh 500 pounds or more, according to state biologists.

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Among those who support the hunt are Lake Waccamaw residents like Matt Wilson, who recently told UNC-TV a hunting season would control the growing alligator population.

“We’ve had gators here in the backyard, attempting to come into my yard for my dogs,” he told UNC-TV. “People hunt deer, turkey, bear...So, you know, I think that would kind of put Lake Waccamaw on the map, so to speak, a little more.”

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs