Daylight is fading and all is quiet in Pleasant Hill Lake Park, half an hour’s drive from Mansfield, Ohio. We pick our way deeper into the darkening woods. An eery mist hangs between the trees. Tree frogs let out their glorious late summer chatter.
Then, there it is — a faint shrill call echoes through the dark spaces between the trees.
Suzanne Ferencak immediately trains her thermal camera in the direction of the noise.
It’s just a deer, suggests someone. There it goes again. It’s not a deer.
It’s probably a cat then. Really? It’s not a cat.
Ferencak isn’t paying these suggestions much attention. She recently made national headlines with a recording what she claimed was ol’ Bigfoot howling.
Ferencak became a Bigfoot Tracker after seeing — albeit in the shadows of night — an eight foot hairy creature near her home in nearby Loudonville in 2013.
The term Bigfoot hunter is not preferred, because it implies violence, which couldn’t be farther from what Squatchies (Bigfoot followers) are about.
Ferencak is just back from the North American Bigfoot Center in Boring, Oregon, a not so boring mecca for Squatchies to share and gather knowledge. Ferencak proudly wears an NABC T-shirt, topped by a pretty metal medallion and earrings depicting Bigfoot.
Her license plate reads BI6FOOT. Someone had already copped the G.
Also on this Bigfoot night walk is Louis Andres, the Pleasant Hill Lake Park Services specialist and naturalist. He neither confirms nor denies his belief in Bigfoot. But in 2020, a family camping at the park heard banging on the latrine.
Then sticks and stones were hurled at their tent by a shadowy giant figure.
“That’s typical Bigfoot behaviors,” he said of what are probably warnings for humans to stay away.
Earlier this month, Andres hosted a Bigfoot Basecamp Weekend festival right here on the spot where the family had camped. Ferencak, along with Matt Moneymaker, founder and president of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) and host of Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” series, and Bigfoot field researcher Charles Kimbrough, author of “Squatchin’ 101,” host talks and treks.
Andres playfully holds up merch he created for the festival — funds will go to this water conservancy park, an important watershed to allay flooding. He chuckles at the cookies iced with Bigfoot images, Squatch orange soda, Bigfoot root beer, covetable bright Squatchie mugs, and furry baby Sasquatch toys. He knows he’s mining the legend, but for a good cause.
The festival follows one in August in Logan in the southern part of the state. Ohio ranks fifth in the nation for credible Bigfoot sightings.
“There is a tendency to under report encounters,” said Andres. People fear being mocked. “We want to create a safe space for Bigfooters to share information on what they’ve seen and heard, so we can learn more about them.”
Most sighting reports are of single Bigfoots; no family groups have been seen.
“If there’s one, there must be more,” said Ferencak. Could be dad does the hunting and keeps mum and babies away from humans. They might have seen “King Kong” and saw how it went with that wondrous beast’s encounter with people. (Not well.)
Ferencak and Andres agree the increased human activity in the area will likely drive Bigfoot deeper into the woods. Andres thinks the festival will be fun even if the guest of honor is a no-show.
“It’s neat when an incident occurs,” he said of sightings. “But anytime we can get people into the outdoors is a good thing.”