‘Hopeful skeptics’: Area Bigfoot enthusiasts hunt for proof
Bigfoot researcher Amy Bue calls herself a “hopeful skeptic.”
“I’m not a 100 percent believer,” the 52-year-old language arts teacher, writer and editor from Youngstown admitted. “I want them to be real, too. Fingers crossed!”
Bigfoot sightings and evidence have been reported in Trumbull, Portage, Mahoning, Geauga and Columbiana counties. Salem, Girard, Howland, West Branch State Park and the Mosquito Creek Reservoir areas are among popular sighting areas. Ohio is No. 6 among states with the most Bigfoot sightings. Pennsylvania ranks third, and Michigan and New York fourth and fifth. The states with the most reported sightings are Washington and California.
So far, Bue has recorded growling that she said doesn’t match any known northeast Ohio animal’s vocalizations, and she’s made plaster casts of some very large humanlike footprints that she’s discovered in woods.
“We welcome skepticism,” said Bue.”But the kinds of things that are intriguing is the fact that you don’t have thousands upon thousands of reports out there of people seeing unicorns and leprechauns. People aren’t collecting data like nesting sights, and audio and tracks and possible hair samples of jackalopes.
“We know that there is misidentification and hoaxing that goes on. But when you stand in front of a lifelong hunter just as normal as you and me, and he gets emotional when he tells you how the opening of deer season used to be his favorite holiday and how now he can’t even step foot in the woods because of what he saw, you don’t forget that. It affects you.”
Tina Sams of Liberty, a 51-year-old Zumba instructor and bartender, said it was May 2018 and she and friends were camping in the Salem area. She and two friends were cruising the woodline on a golf cart.
“It was 12:30 at night. I heard a twig snap. I turned my head and something was getting up off the ground. It had been down with its hands on the ground like a track runner in the starting position and it got up and started walking.
One of her passengers didn’t see it because of an obstructed view, but the other had a clear sight. “She was really upset. I remember turning and seeing the veins in her neck as she yells, ‘Just go! Just go!'”
Sams said she knows it wasn’t a bear. She said yes, it could have been a person. If so, what was he doing hiding out there? Sams said slow, deliberate rational thought was not with her at that moment.
“Taking pictures was the last thing on my mind. Getting out of there was on my mind.”
By the time she returned with one of the men on the camping trip, whatever it was had vanished into the darkness.
“In that same area around 9 p.m. last summer, something growled at us. The next morning we went back and saw that it had been next to a wild raspberry bush. I saw a human footprint, 19 inches long and 8 inches wide,” Sams said. She made a cast impression for the evidence archives.
For Bue, it happened in 2012. “I was a passenger in a car going over Meander Reservoir here in Mahoning County. I saw something standing close to the shoreline. It was very large, very wide, uniform in color and alive — it moved and turned.
“I don’t know what I saw that day, or in the dark through a FLIR (forward-looking infrared) camera six years later in southern Ohio. But I do know that day near Meander sparked my interest and changed my life, because here I am now,” Bue said. “And by the way, there have been several sightings near Meander Reservoir.”
For Jami and Jenny King of Masury, in 2010, they were hiking on a trail around Shenango River Lake in Mercer County, Pa., when they said they heard an animalistic yell unlike anything they’d ever heard.
“It kind of changed our lives,” said Jami King, 50, a tow motor driver at Aptiv in Warren. “(We said) we’re going to find out what made that vocalization.”
Later, they matched up what they heard to a 1994 recording from Wellsville of what’s known as the “Ohio Howl,” described as a hair-raising deep voice screaming into the night,” suspected to be a Bigfoot vocalization. It’s different from the weird screams a fox can make.
The Kings went back to the same area shortly after with a friend. “We were hiking out when we heard what sounded like a man talking, a whistle and a dog barking,” King said. “I went to the edge of a ravine and saw this thing stand up and walk into the woods. It definitely was not human.”
He described it as a large, ape-like creature with conical head and long, dark hair.
“I can’t say 100 percent that I saw Bigfoot, but I saw something,” he said.
Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, is an ape-like creature of folklore purported to inhabit the forests of North America. Native Americans and loggers told stories of a muscular creature anywhere from 6 to 9 feet tall covered in black, dark brown or reddish hair.
Anecdotal evidence includes sightings, footprints up to 24 inches long, nestlike structures in the woods, recordings of unidentified vocalizations, and blurry films and photographs.
Mainstream scientists historically attribute the evidence to legend, misidentification and hoaxes.Bigfoot is known as a cryptid — an animal claimed to exist but which has never been proven to exist.
“It is not ancient history when the mountain gorillas and western lowland gorillas were considered to be cryptids,” Bue said. “Look up the Bili apes and the Cross River gorillas and the Tapanuli orangutans. These great apes have all been ‘discovered’ even more recently. The natives in Africa and Asia knew they were there. They spoke about wild people in the forests.
“The word ‘orangutan’ literally means ‘person of the forest.’ Westerners just didn’t believe them.
“Maybe, with the long history of Sasquatch — or whatever a specific tribe calls them — stories from our own indigenous people, we should look into it more.”
Various Bigfoot research groups are working across the country archiving reports and evidence in the hopes of someday confirming the existence of the legendary creature.
“With all the cellphone and cameras out there and people coming forward with DNA and hair samples, I think it possibly will happen in my lifetime,” King said.
He and Jenny King’s group is Bigfoot Field Evidence Evaluation Team — FEET. He is also an administrator with Pennsylvania Sasquatch Research, and both he and Bue have been honored nationally as Bigfoot Researchers of the Year, “which is a huge honor as most people in the field are from the West Coast,” King said.
The largest group in the United States is the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization. Bue is a former field researcher with the group and previously lived on the West Coast and was part of the Olympic Project Bigfoot Research Team (OP).
She co-founded Project Zoobook (PZ), “comprised of primate zookeepers, primatologists, wildlife biologists, marine biologists, forestry workers, archaeologists, anthropologists, university professors, law enforcement officials and other scientists working alongside Bigfoot researchers from across the country. Numerous other group exist, which share notes and archive evidence.
“Some of the OP’s most impressive research started when a logging company surveyor came across some ground nests when he was in a very remote spot out in the Olympic National Forest” in Washington State, Bue said.
“He had never seen anything like these and the logging company ended up bringing a governmental wildlife agency in — they didn’t know what these were. Bear specialist? Nope. Not bear nests. Wood rats? Nope.
“Finally, the OP was brought in,” she said. “I flew out there with two of my primate people, and after they took a look at the nests, all I can say is that you could feel their excitement.
“Do we say that Bigfoot made them? Of course not. Unless you see the animal making them, how could you say that? But when you take the sightings and the audio and the footprint evidence and the hair samples that have now been found in that same area, it is a very intriguing bit of research that is being done out there,” Bue said.
Sams noted that not only is DNA analyzation costly, no databases for Bigfoot exist. So if the sample doesn’t get a hit in the database, lab workers put it down as a contaminated sample or that there’s not enough DNA to make a determination.
She said she believes a newer technology known as eDNA, environmental DNA, that can ID all animals that have been at a certain spot will be what eventually confirms the existence.
“Audio is maybe my favorite part of this research besides just being in the woods. A lot of other audio files have been sent to me personally, but most turn out to be fox screams. They are weird-sounding creatures,” Bue said. Some of the footprints also turn out to be double bear prints, she said. Harder evidence for existence is needed.
Bigfoot researchers know that a larger portion of the population think of them as either looney or hoaxers.
“A lot of people do hoax, which makes our job harder,” Sams said. “(But) 99 percent of the sightings were made by hikers, not people out looking for Bigfoot. There are people who are driving home from work and one crosses the road in front of their car.
“Sometimes when taking a sighting statement … The emotion in their account — people are genuinely affected,” Sams said. “At least 95 percent of the people that have had a sighting wish that they never had. It rocks their world. They’ve seen something that’s not supposed to exist.”
Bue said, “Yes, there are a lot of people in my life who think I am nuts for doing what I do. I’m secretly kind of into being called the ‘crazy aunt.’
“But honestly? I don’t let it bother me. First of all, I’m not doing anything wrong. Let’s pretend Bigfoot isn’t real and I’m wasting my time. So? I still give time to my family and friends. I work hard at more than one job. I pay my taxes. I don’t hurt anybody. So they can get over it,” she said.
“There is a whole gamut of ideas about what Bigfoot might be. I don’t claim to know,” Bue said. “You have people who think they could be paranormal or aliens. Sometimes those groups clash with groups like mine who are interested in the possibility of them being primates.
“I have friends and fellow researchers in all of those camps. My focus is in science,” Bue said. “I think that if they exist they could be some kind of large primate. But could I be wrong? Sure.”
A WALK IN THE WOODS
“I don’t see what I do as nuts,” Bue said. “Any time spent in the woods is good, in my opinion. Getting kids off of their screens and into the woods is good.
“As someone who has gone through the Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist program, I like to say that we might not ever prove Bigfoot is real, but maybe those of us who are spending so much time in the woods might find a new mushroom. Or a new species of bird. You never know. But the possibility that these nests could be made by as-yet-to-be proven great apes in North America is greater than I ever thought possible. I can’t wait for my next trip.
“I think if people understood what I really do in this field, they might think differently. If all of these scientists in and outside of my group can be into this topic, I am in good company.
“Bigfooting is hiking and camping together and you hope something happens and usually it doesn’t,” she said. “I’ve had such a great time. I met such a lot of great people. It’s really interesting.”
Sams said, “Even if we spend thousands of hours in the woods and never find what we’re looking for as far as Bigfoot is concerned … we still spent thousands of hours in nature, and that’s a beautiful thing.”