Authorities were warning people to stay away from Haddonfield's Hopkins Pond today after a three- to four-foot alligator was spotted there.

School officials warned parents to keep children away from the popular pond, located near Grove Street and Hopkins Avenue. County officials warned people to keep pets away.

Authorities closed the park that includes the pond and plotted their next move.

The gator, which Camden County Parks Department officials said was at least three feet long, was sighted Friday morning by a Haddonfield resident. County park police officers later confirmed the reptile sighting.

Central Middle School principal Noah Tennant sent an e-mail to parents today under the subject: "A strange but important notice."

The notice continues: "We have been notified that someone let loose a 4-foot 'pet' alligator in Hopkins Pond. Police have warned community members not to walk by the pond until they are able to capture the animal. . . .

"Please join our efforts in keeping our children away from the area until it is safe."

Camden County Park Police Sgt. William Draham said he believed that the beast would pose no greater threat than a raccoon.

"You have as much chance of being bitten by it as being bitten by a dog," he said. "It would be like a dog bite."

Draham said he arrived on the scene shortly after another park patrolman spotted the beast.

"It just went under," he said. "It appeared to be eating."

The pond, surrounded by several acres of park, is home to fish, ducks and other wildlife.

County animal control officers were summoned but left after saying they were unfamiliar with gator captures. State Division of Fish and Wildlife workers also arrived, but were unsure how to proceed.

"There's no guarantee" that authorities can capture the reptile, Draham said.

Hopkins Pond drains into the Cooper River, which flows into the Delaware River.

"He has plenty of food," said Draham.