NORTH PORT — North Port officials were getting ready to reopen Warm Mineral Springs to the public Thursday, after some damage from Hurricane Elsa closed it for a day.
The city-owned facility was to open at 11 a.m. Several visitors were queued up at the front door, waiting to soak in the 85-degree, mineral-infused waters.
Then someone spotted the alligator — enjoying the nice, warm bath himself.
The reopening was delayed. No swimming, floating or bathing for awhile.
“While conducting a routine safety check this morning prior to re-opening after being temporarily closed due to Hurricane Elsa, operating staff spotted an alligator,” city spokesman Josh Taylor wrote in an email.
“The Department of Environmental Protection has been contacted and will be sending a trapper to the park to safely remove our wildlife friend as soon as possible. Unfortunately, their response time may be a little slower than usual due to the increased volume of high-priority post-hurricane work that the DEP is currently processing.”
Hurricane Elsa passed northward in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday night and early Wednesday, sending storm bands over North Port with wind gusts of 65 mph that dumped about 10 inches of rain on most of the community.
The storm also damaged the springs’ women’s locker room, Taylor said.
The locker room, toilets, and showers will be closed while city workers make repairs. Portable restrooms and handwashing stations were set up in anticipation of the springs’ reopening. The men’s locker room was not damaged.
“It’s no secret that the buildings at the park are older and Elsa put them to the test,” said Laura Ansel, North Port’s Marketing & Outreach coordinator. “Fortunately, staff were able to act quickly to find a solution that would allow our visitors to have a safe visit and get back in the water.”
But that wasn’t accounting for a wayward gator, reported to be 3 to 4 feet long.
The springs and the buildings are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Architect Jack West, one of the leaders of the Sarasota School of Architecture designed the buildings.
In June, city commissioners approved $9 million for the initial construction phase of the Warm Mineral Springs Park Master Plan, which includes the historic restoration of the buildings and improvements to utility infrastructure and the parking lot. The project could cost $25 million to complete.
The facility has been a money-maker for the city, bringing in 17,000 visitors in just April and nearly $1.8 million yearly from ticket and gift-shop sales.