Meet "Big Al." At 13 feet, four inches, he's a living example that everything's bigger in Texas. Al's habitat is Gator Country Adventure Park, an alligator theme park built on the remnants of a dilapidated alligator breeding farm that has been turned into a tourist attraction, Gator Country Adventure Park, by Gary Saurage and his partners.
"This whole place was horrible," Saurage said. "All the ponds were just thick with lily pads and were so drained down, and there were only a couple of alligators here - it was just a horrible situation. And I thought, "You know, this thing sits right on Interstate 10. If you came in here and spent some money, I believe people would come."
With hard work and more than a few greenbacks (both monetary and amphibian), Saurage and his co-owners have put together an appealing one-of-a-kind attraction, that's both entertaining and educational.
"We start our shows with the babies, then we go to where all the four-foot alligators are," he said."We get in there and show the people where the strike zones are - if you're standing in the wrong spot, you're gonna get tagged - we talk about how quick they are, jaw pressure. We show people their agility, their speed. We describe the hibernation process and egg development."
After the animal show, patrons can feed the larger alligators hot dogs from a fishing line, see large alligator snapping turtles, snakes and even hold a baby alligator. The visitors center sells Gator Country memorabilia and gifts. Gator Country's restaurant menu includes Cajun food, shrimp, po-boys and naturally, alligator.
The word about Gator Country continues to spread. The park was featured in Gator 911 as part of CMT's Adventure Country and is frequently featured on Billy The Exterminator's reality television show. Still, during the summer tourist season, Saurage and the staff continue to enjoy showing and telling people about Southeast Texas' reptilian residents. "We're here to teach people about the alligators we live with, and I think when people come here, they'll see that," Saurage said.."It's the people and their reaction, putting on the show... it's a lot of fun, educating people... for me, it's a dream."