Search for Bigfoot is alive and well in W.Va.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Judging by the number of people willing to spend up to $500 to look for him/her/it, Bigfoot appears to be alive and well in West Virginia.
The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, a group that sets up hunts for the legendary creature, will conduct a four-day search this fall through the Mountain State's hills and hollows. According to the organization's website, all available slots for the Sept. 20-23 outing have been filled.
Russ Jones, a Charleston-area chiropractor and one of the Bigfoot organization's local investigators, said the interest being focused on West Virginia isn't surprising.
"West Virginia is 16th in the nation for Bigfoot reports," he explained. "With our small [human] population and relatively poor Internet access, I'd say we're pretty active."
He said the state averages about 100 reports a year, of which perhaps 15 to 20 could be termed "solid."
"We're talking about good reports from reliable witnesses, people you think might actually have seen something," he said. "We're talking about policemen, who are trained to observe things, or people who are active in the outdoors and are able to accurately identify wildlife."
The most reliable reports get written up and placed in the Bigfoot organization's online database. Currently, the database lists 80 such encounters dating back to 1969.
Jones said a couple of the more recent credible incidents occurred in Greenbrier County, between Lewisburg and Alta along Interstate 64.
"We had two sightings within five miles of each other, and they were both from credible witnesses," he explained. "We're interested enough that we plan to put out [motion-sensing] trail cameras near the interstate to try to get a picture."
Jones said he isn't sure where September's search would focus.
"We usually make that a last-minute decision based on where we're getting fresh reports. We'll also look at the database to see which county has the most September sightings," he added.
"If I were to guess, I'd say we'd probably end up in or around the Monongahela National Forest. Greenbrier and Pendleton counties have the highest numbers of encounters."
He estimated that the outing would attract roughly 40 searchers, each of whom would pay $300 to $500 to look and listen for evidence of the cryptic creature.
"Some of those people will be members of the public who are along for the experience," he said. "But with each small group of amateurs, we try to place a genuine Bigfoot investigator who has thermal imaging equipment, night-vision equipment or high-tech audio recording equipment."
Some of the group's outings are videotaped and broadcast on Animal Planet's popular "Finding Bigfoot" show. Jones said he had hoped the show's producers might focus on West Virginia, but they ended up looking elsewhere.
"A big part of their decision-making process is based on logistics," he explained. "They want the searches to take place near major airports. In West Virginia, that just isn't possible."
Jones, who owns a Master Naturalist rating from the state Division of Natural Resources, said he has been interested in Bigfoot since his youth.
"I grew up in southeastern Ohio, where I trapped, ran coon hounds and rabbit dogs," he said. "When I was 13, I found some human-sized footprints in the snow. At the time, I had never heard of Bigfoot. The next year, I was fishing at a beaver dam several miles back in the woods. Something came down through the woods and screamed at me."
Years later, after he learned of Bigfoot, Jones started wondering if the incidents weren't Bigfoot encounters. He became involved with the Bigfoot Field Research group, and the group's leaders eventually asked him to start interviewing Bigfoot-encounter witnesses.
Though he realizes many people are skeptical about Bigfoot's presence, Jones believes there might be as many as 150 of them in West Virginia.
"If these things exist, they're most likely primates, and they're probably smarter than monkeys," he said. "If they want to stay out of sight, they have the smarts to do it. Coyotes aren't nearly as smart as monkeys, and there are thousands and thousands of them in West Virginia, but how often do people ever see them?
"The rational side of you wonders if [Bigfoot encounters] could actually be happening. But then you talk to these policemen and outdoorsmen and professionals, and they're describing something they saw from just 30 feet away -- well, the anecdotal evidence merits someone taking a serious look at it. The people in our organization want to make sure it's a fair look."
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.