Normally spending his vacations in Arizona, Johnson was drawn to Florida for its sheer nature, and he wanted to see something truly natural. He, too, also had the privilege to hold a live gator, with the overall experience of the park exceeding his expectations. “I enjoyed it and I learned a lot,” he said. “I would come back.” Aside from celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Gatorama is also celebrating being one of 11 surviving tourist attractions within Florida that opened during the golden era of the 1950s. Nearly 73 such roadside attractions had opened more than 60 years ago, but only 11 of them, including Gatorama, still exist to- day. Much has changed since then, most prominently the construction of the interstate and Disney World, both of which has changed the flow of traffic within the state, especially along 27. As such, Gatorama has survived the past 60 years by adapting to the times. Of course, it also helps that the attraction offers visitors the the opportunity to see Florida’s rugged wilderness and the state’s most famous animal. So after spending a day or two at the beaches or theme parks, tourists, especially international tourists, often seize the opportunity to do a little extra traveling within the state. “We are in the section of the state that we call ‘real Florida’ in the middle of the state, so we have been able to provide an experience for our guests that they cannot get anywhere else,” said Allen Register. Allen was named Alligator Egg Collection Coordinator on Public Wetlands in 1994 and has held the title ever since. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission oversees the colle tion of every alligator egg farmed in the state and every one ends up at Gatorama. Allen is responsible for distributing all of the pre-sold eggs once hatched in the state, a position he has been elected into for years by fellow commercial alligator farmers.
Haines City High School graduates Patty and Allen Register have owned Gatorama down near Lake Okeechobee for a decade but they still consider Polk County home. Allen and Patty purchased the farm in 2006 and started enhancing the entertainment and educational opportunities offered to guests. They had the first Hatching Festival that year. In 2007 the couple rescued the first troubled American Crocodile in the state. Eventually they became the largest captive breeder of Acutus Crocodiles in North America. A fishing pond was added and then in 2013 the walkway around the farm was extended and a larger capacity incubator was placed. A fossil dig was added in 2015. “The last few years improving the attraction has been the focus, less farming,” Allen said. The Registers said they will be having month- ly events starting in January to celebrate their 10th year owning Gatorama and 30 years of the property being in their family history. First up is the 17th Annual Big Bull Gator Roundup happening sometime in January. On the farm slash attraction behind the main house are two areas where the alligators and crocodiles are separated. Every year a select group of experts and trusted friends trap up to two dozen of the reptiles so they don’t min- gle during mating season. This year for a not so steep fee, not so experts can help round up some reptiles. Check the Gatorama.com web site for more information on how to help round up a dozen or so. It’s an experience you won’t forget.
And in an offer to Polk County residents, any- one who attends Gatorama and shows this article can get 25 percent off admission. All a person needs is a driver license or some form of identification. The 2017 schedule has not been set but next up is the Junior Gator Roundup and then in March is the Second Annual Crocodile Egg Hunt. Not so experts can pay a fee and partici- pate in this outdoorsy event as well. Patty said each month in 2017 there will be a special event and to refer to their web site for more specifics. Allen said he sold more than 10,000 pounds of gator meat last year. There were and are still only a few commercial alligator farming licens- es issued in the state. Each year Gatorland har- vests between 1,000-2,000 alligators for meat and hides. Check their web site for price per pound but forget shipping, bring the family down and purchase the meat in the gift shop.
The largest event of the year at Gatorama will be the 10th Annual Hatching Festival. Alligator eggs naturally hatch during August and early September and natural indicators set the date. Gatorama is located at 10665 N. U.S. 27 in Moore Haven, south of Sebring along US. 27. For information, visit gatorama.com, or call 863-675-0623. Allen said he is extending an offer to Polk County residents that they get 25 percent off admission if they mention they saw this story in Haven.