large American alligator and small crocodile with duckweed covering face

Smooth Waters Wildlife Park – Deleon Springs

Text // Photos by Kelsey Walters

After a While, Crocodile

baby petting baby alligator

Living in Florida, we all know about alligators. We joke to visitors that they are just as much a part of our daily lives as squirrels, but in reality, unless we are encroaching on their territory, we don’t often get an up-close experience.

A new wildlife park is offering the chance to really get to know the family of crocodylians (which includes gators, crocodiles and caimans) as well as several other reptiles with an experience to remember.

large American alligator with duckweed covering face

The Origin’s of Volusia’s Newest Wildlife Park

Smooth Waters Wildlife Park in DeLeon Springs is a short drive away, but serves up lots of scaly fun. Once a former reptile breeding facility, the 10 acres of land was the perfect spot for owner, Nathan Sweeting, to set up shop and fulfill a lifelong dream.

Since he was about 10 years old, and obsessed with dinosaurs as most kids are, he wanted to have a place of his own to work with dinosaurs. Since we don’t have a real-life Jurassic Park readily available, he went for the next best thing and focused on a career in zookeeping with a specialty in modern day “dinos.”

large lizard sunbathing on log

Fast forward a nearly 20-year career later, and Smooth Waters has been in business for just under two years. A visit to the park offers a chance to see the creatures in as close to their natural environment as possible from a relatively close distance while still keeping you perfectly safe. Smooth Waters strictly follows all of the safety guidelines for housing the animals for the public’s safety.

family holding small baby alligator
Photo by Nathan Sweeting

Perfect Adventure for Families

The park is a fun experience for all ages, even the little ones! My husband, Scott and I took our 10-month-old daughter, Avery. She was completely fascinated watching the animals and thought the large sandspur tortoises were particularly hilarious. An adventure package includes the chance to hold a baby gator as well as feed the resident tortoises.

We gave Avery the chance to pet the gator (which is basically a rite of passage as a Florida kid) and she looked at it closely, raised her eyebrows and looked at us as if to say, “What the heck is this thing?!” then gave it a gentle poke.

woman kneeling to feed lettuce to large tortoise
Photo by Scott Walters

What is there besides gators?

As we fed the tortoises, they scurried over to the wall for their bites of lettuce (as fast as a tortoise can scurry) and gobbled it up which sent Avery into a giggle fit. I would compare it to feeding a game of lazily played Hungry, Hungry Hippos; the tortoises certainly love the snack but are in no rush to finish, which gives you plenty of time to interact with them. They also appreciate a good noggin scratch and shell pat during their meal.

The other, much larger, residents aren’t available for snack time, and with good reason. Trapper, an American alligator and largest on the property, is just under 13 feet long and is not a beast to be reckoned with. You’ll also get plenty of face time with Nile crocodiles, smaller Siamese crocodiles and plenty of caiman. They mostly spend their time in search of a good sunning spot, moving from patch to patch around their natural ponds.

small pond covered in green duckweed and surrounded by trees

Nathan spends a great deal of time training and working with the animals on-site to ensure the safety of them, all those involved in their care and visitors but also to ensure their happiness. When he noticed that most of them were on the opposite side of the pond while he explained the various differences between species, he called them over with an assortment of vocalizations for a closer look.

Within seconds, we had a few crocodiles, an alligator and caiman practically at our feet. The largest of which, Dave, responded to a simple, “Come here, Dave!” with his girlfriend in tow. It’s easy to see the special relationship Nathan has with these creatures and why they are so important to him.

siamese crocodile walking across bank of pond

Are you ready to go?

We planned to spend about an hour at the park, but got sucked in listening to him gush over each creature and learned more than we thought there was to know about each species, and I’m willing to bet you will, too.

Smooth Waters is new to the wildlife scene, and is a constant work in progress as Nathan and his family work to improve the habitats and experience, but it’s easy to see that this labor of love is here to stay. With fun for the whole family, and a fascinating glimpse into Florida’s natural “backyard,” Smooth Waters just might instill a new lifelong dream in your own dino-loving little adventurer!

large crocodile sunbathing on bank of pond

Smooth Waters Wildlife Park

4500 Reed St., De Leon Springs, FL 32130

(407) 967-3768 // SmoothWatersWildlife.com

Tue. – Sun.: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

General Admission: $10/adult; $5/child 4 – 12; kids 3 and under free

Adventure Pass: $17/person

Kelsey Walters biography
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