It was a fairly average winter day in mid-January 2020 when two men in Guernsey County, Ohio were out for a walk in the woods. No big deal especially on a decent day in typically bitter January.
That day would not end with a successful hike. It would end with a strange, distant encounter with something the two men claim they spotted near their path that looked oddly like the legendary Bigfoot.
Yes, THE Bigfoot. In the woods in Ohio. And in all places, a state park - Salt Fork State Park.
Salt Fork State Park is a public recreation area located six miles north of Lore City in Guernsey County, Ohio. It is the largest state park in Ohio, encompassing 17,229 acres of land and 2,952 acres of water. The grounds include the Kennedy Stone House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Salt fork is about 90 minutes due east of Columbus, Ohio, the capital city of the Buckeye State. Salt Fork is past the hills and cliffs of Zanesville, Ohio and just under an hour away from the Pennsylvania border.
For our international listeners even Ohio, a fairly small state compared to behemoths like Texas and California, is wide and takes some hours to cross on a day with good weather. Another example, it's roughly a six hour drive from Columbus to Chicago, IL.
These men claim they saw Bigfoot, and snapped a not surprisingly slightly grainy photo that was then sent around to news channels.
So, Bigfoot huh? The creature, the man, the myth, the legend? Why do so many people claim to see it lurking from a distance, and why is the legend so ubiquitous? To be clear, I'm not making fun of anyone who believes in Bigfoot; in fact, I think it's one of the less ridiculous cryptids or urban legends out there. But I do think, without a doubt, it's just that. A legend, propelled by the fervent want to believe in something other, something unexplained, like the Loch Ness Monster.
Bigfoot. Sasquatch. Yeti. Ohio Grassman. Whatever you choose to call it, it really is all the same creature. Very big, hairy and tall, averaging 6 to 8 feet tall. With foot prints averaging from 13 to 17 inches long. It has been rumored to live in Ohio since the mid-1700's. It has also been rumored to live in Ohio's largest State Park. Salt Fork. Over 36 reported sightings have been reported to Don Keating of Newcomerstown since the middle 1980's. With the huge amount of alleged 'evidence' coming from Salt Fork's borders, Keating decided to host the "Annual Bigfoot Conference" at Salt Fork starting in 2005.
Many Bigfoot sightings throughout the years have been reported in the Salt Fork Region. A map of the park will help the reader to locate the areas of sightings. Sightings have been reported at the following locations:
Parker Road also known as "Buckeye Trail"
Bigfoot Ridge, the park's primitive campground was the area where Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb filmed an episode of their "Today Show with Kathy and Hoda."
In 2012, the Salt Fork State Park was named as one of the USA Today's Top Ten "Squatchiest" Places.
And yes, there is a Bigfoot conference in Ohio. Mostly on Facebook the group is selling tickets to its May 16, 2021 conference, the "Sasquatch Triangle Conference", hosted by Relic Hominid LLC. Sadly their FB page is devoid of any real information but it looks....sketch. Sorry y'all. It does.
But Don Keating, who was just quoted, is a featured speaker at this conference and that alone has my interest. From the FB page for the Ohio Bigfoot Conference:
Certainly one of the featured speakers at the Ohio Sasquatch Triangle Conference will be the godfather of Ohio bigfooting, Don Keating. Having developed an interest in the phenomena in the mid 1980's, Don is a member of the Ohio Bigfoot Hall of Fame. He has spent hours upon hours in the field investigating reports and monitoring areas of activity. He was the founder of the Ohio Bigfoot Conference, sponsored monthly meetings of the Tri-State Bigfoot Study Group and has published monthly newsletters and books on the subject. Of late, Don has scaled back his bigfoot work to pursue other passions, but he remains the person in Ohio with the deepest and widest knowledge of the topic in terms of the Buckeye State. If anyone can wear the "Been There, Done That" t-shirt in Ohio, it is Don.
So why Bigfoot? Why all the fuss?
Over sixty years ago, Bigfoot first stepped into the public consciousness. "Giant footprints puzzle residents," a headline in the Humboldt Times announced. The small Northern California newspaper reported that a road construction crew had discovered humanlike footprints that were a massive 16 inches long. The paper was the first to give the mysterious animal that made the prints its memorable moniker-"Bigfoot"-and the creature has been stomping through the American imagination ever since.
Of course, Bigfoot is not the first fabled hominid to roam North America. Sasquatches long populated the mythologies of American Indian tribes in the Pacific Northwest, but those 1958 footprints transformed the myth into a media sensation. The tracks were planted near Bluff Creek in Northern California by a man named Ray Wallace-but his prank was not revealed until his death in 2002, when his children said it had all been "just a joke."
Still the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence either. Wild animals don't exactly mug for photos, and the planet's ever-shrinking forests still regularly unpack surprises, such as the saola, an untamed cousin of the cow that was discovered by scientists in Vietnam in 1992. But the saola did not have legions of amateurs hunting it with cameras. With or without hard evidence, many people clearly want to believe in Bigfoot. Which suggests we are dealing more with human imagination than human evolution.
Naish has written that Bigfoot is the modern American "manifestation of a human-wide cultural concept, not a zoological reality." It has much in common with the Australian yowie and the Himalayan yeti: an upright posture, shaggy hair and, of course, large feet. As so-called wild men, they hold a crude mirror up to our own species: What might Homo sapiens be like if civilization had not removed it from nature?
The hunt for Bigfoot emulates an earlier mode of discovery, when new knowledge was not the product of advanced degrees and expensive machinery but rather curiosity, bravery, patience and survival. In the 19th century, the American landscape revealed its majesties to ordinary settlers pushing westward into territory unmapped by Europeans. To track Bigfoot today is to channel that frontier spirit (as well as to appropriate Native American traditions).
A quick search on YouTube shows TONS of videos apparently proving that Bigfoot or Sasquatch exists. Bigfoot clips from Alaska, Oregon, Utah, etc; while camping or backpacking; "eyewitness" accounts told through grainy photos and shaky, if unwatchable, camera feeds or security footage.
But fascinatingly enough, a video I found talking to Jane Goodall, famed ape researcher, discusses Bigfoot:
She talks about how every single inhabited continent has a Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti/etc story or myth. The Yari in Australia, the Chinese Wild Man. She discusses how she would love for it to be real, and she's heard from so many people who SWEAR they've seen a famed Sasquatch or Yeti or Bigfoot.
"So there's something. I don't know what it is. I'm always open-minded."
And if it's good enough for Jane Goodall, shouldn't it be good enough for the rest of us?
There's a ton more out there - casts made of supposed Bigfoot tracks, sightings that border on ridiculous or almost believable, and people who would swear on their lives that they saw the famous bipedal hairy being tromping through the woods, seemingly unaware or uncaring of their presence.
So what are we left with?
To quote from that Smithsonian piece:
Some people see these cryptohominids as symbols of pure freedom, living by instinct and foiling every effort to pin them down. To search for Bigfoot in the forest is to taste that freedom. On the trail, you become extra-attuned to nature: the smell of scat, the sounds of breaking branches, the curious impressions in the dirt. As long as there are wild places in America, Bigfoot remains a possibility that, to its most ardent proponents, cannot be disproved.