ATHENS, Mich. (Michigan Back Roads) – Athens, Michigan boasts a one-of-a-kind nature center. The Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary is home to more than 100 alligators, and most are rescues of one kind or another. The sanctuary protects the alligators and showcases their learning abilities. There you can meet the alligators by name, watch them go through their paces, and have a bunch of fun. You start at the welcome center for orientation and take a selfie with the bearded dragon. Then it is time for a tour of the grounds to meet the critters.
Most people know that alligators are so fast that they can outrun most people. Turns out they also have excellent hearing, can distinguish different colors and are pretty smart. Their hearing is better than dogs, they even respond to vocal commands. As an example, an alligator can differentiate between the words “Ted” & “Ned.” A dog would hear those as identical sounds; the same goes for “dot” and “spot”. So, when you meet an alligator, be careful about calling them names.
Among the residents is Charlie, the alpha reptile. He is 12-years-old and has 3 girlfriends. Grace is an adult who lives quietly in a pond of water hyacinths. Her nickname is “Lefty” since she is missing her left paw. She is learning to give a fist pump with her right. Then there is Spot, one of the smartest of the bunch. He has a favorite color and knows several words. You’ll be happy the fence is there when the guide shouts “Spot, come!” and this adult alligator comes chuggin up out of the water right at you.
The alligators have a good home at Critchlow. They live in open pens with water features. Almost all of them were brought here after pet owners found they could no longer care for them, or the reptile was simply abandoned. The nursery has a roof to protect the young. Blue Herons consider the babies very tasty. When the warm months come to an end, the sanctuary has a “Fall Round Up” to move the gators inside for winter.
The alligator sanctuary is on M-66 near Athens.