Editor's note: This story is featured in the Oct. 19 print edition of CityBeat.
It’s a peaceful drive between Cincinnati and Perrysville, especially when avoiding the interstate. The three-hour trip to north-central Ohio winds through plenty of farmland and state-protected areas, alive with greens and yellows in early September. Throughout the region and up through Mansfield, there are weathered signs marking the many locations where the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption was filmed with Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. It all makes for a pleasant weekend outing.
But it’s the forests and waterways, instead, that interest those flocking to Pleasant Hill Lake Park. The area is dense with tall, burly trees that have been alive longer than many of the people reading this. The forests butt up against fields and small, isolated farms, and there are creeks sprinkled throughout.
This, experts say, is exactly the type of region where the mysterious Sasquatch thrives.
And that’s why Pleasant Hill Lake Park is hosting its first-ever Bigfoot Basecamp Weekend. According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), Ohio has the fourth-highest number of credible Bigfoot sightings. A ranger-reported incident happened right in Pleasant Hill Lake Park in 2020, adding believability to the claims and somewhat calming skeptics.
Hundreds of people with both professional interest and mere curiosity are hoping for a similar encounter with the fabled ape-like creature at Pleasant Lake, and the park is welcoming them wholeheartedly with what essentially is a Bigfoot convention. It’s hosting a weekend full of expert-led talks, demonstrations and squatchin’ (“Sasquatch hunting,” for those in the know), with BFRO founder and Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot star Matt Moneymaker as the main draw. Moneymaker is set to debut new technology that could aid the hunt in a big way, he claims.
But will the folks who are paying to camp at Pleasant Hill and get one-on-one time with Moneymaker actually find the elusive Bigfoot? That remains to be seen.
A ‘Hotbed’ of Sasquatch sightingsAbout 20 round tables are scrunched together in a room on the lower level of the Mohican Lodge and Conference Center, which is situated almost directly across the lake from the Pleasant Hill Lake Park welcome center but in actuality is a 15-mile drive around the lake’s perimeter. Guests are chatting animatedly about their Bigfoot curiosities while feasting on green beans and Pleasant Hill-branded Sasquatch soda. As VIPs, they’ve paid extra for dinner and a small-group talk from Moneymaker.
Louis Andres, the program specialist at Pleasant Hill Lake Park, builds their anticipation by sharing the region’s Sasquatch history, showing a map with three sightings near the lake. The most important, he says, comes from a ranger employed by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, which oversees Pleasant Hill Lake. It marks the first time someone in law enforcement or government had filed a Sasquatch report that then was made available to the public.
According to the report, Faith Steele had called 911 and connected to the Ashland County sheriff’s office during the evening of Aug. 18, 2020, alleging that someone or something had been throwing sticks or rocks from the woods at her family’s campsite at the park. When she and her husband heard “strange loud or weird noises” coming from the trees, they urged their children to go inside their tent as Steele’s husband stood outside with a pocket knife.
Things then became even more interesting, according to the report.
“Witnesses went on to say a few minutes later they heard a loud bang (or knock) as if someone had smacked or punched hard the side of the (wooden) outhouse restroom located nearby on the other side of the primitive camp,” the report said. “When they turned and looked in that direction they observed something run into the woods. The witness described what he saw as a tall, dark and hairy figure run and disappear into the woods. Witness said the first thing he thought of when he saw it was a Bigfoot.”
A park ranger – listed as “McLellan” in the report – said that he did not find the culprit or any damage and closed the investigation.
According to Moneymaker’s follow-up report for Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, the family’s assumption that Bigfoot was behind it all was correct.
“This incident definitely happened. There were multiple witnesses. The witnesses were definitely afraid and called the sheriffs,” Moneymaker wrote at the time. “There were no other people camping in that most primitive section of the park. The father definitely thought it was a sasquatch.”
Moneymaker went on to note that the behavior was typical for the creature.
“The camp harassment they described is not uncommon. It has been described in many parts of North America,” Moneymaker wrote. “This time it happened near a densely wooded gorge where various BFRO investigators (including me) have either encountered or heard sasquatches over the years. The surrounding area is one of the historical hotbeds of sasquatch sightings in Ohio.”
In the Mohican Lodge, the VIP guests are quietly buzzing with excitement as Andres recounts the story. Andres, who previously had spent 32 years with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, says he hasn’t personally experienced a Bigfoot incident but remains open to the possibility, especially as more and more residents and visitors report sightings.
According to the BFRO, there have been 313 Bigfoot incidents reported in Ohio as of press time, putting the state behind only Washington, California and Florida. Andres says that’s partially due to Ohio’s topography.
“Ohio is all segmented with woods and stuff, and they [Bigfoots] travel more with that than if you had a million acres [where] they would stay in one area and nobody would ever see them, like out West,” Andres says. “But in Ohio, if you’ve got woods here and then have to travel over to this wood, it’s moving more in those pockets, those habitats, so they’re more likely to be spotted.”
Sasquatches particularly love Ohio’s chessboard of farmland and forests, haunting the treeline where other prey might hide, he says, adding that Moneymaker plans to showcase new drone technology in such areas for that evening’s crowd of Bigfoot enthusiasts.
“What Matt was saying is there seems to be a correlation to where the deer are, their primary food source,” Andres says. “Deer tend to be active at night and they like the edge effects, so they like where the woods and the farm fields come together. So what we’re going to be concentrating on tonight are those edges.”
Finally, Andres introduces Moneymaker to the awed group. The man is known as “that guy from Finding Bigfoot,” which ran on Animal Planet from 2011 to 2017, but he’s more than a television personality, he says. He was a law student at the University of Akron when he launched Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization in 1995, claiming that he chose the school because of Ohio’s burgeoning reputation for Sasquatch sightings.
BFRO is “the only scientific research organization exploring the bigfoot/sasquatch mystery,” its website says. It’s a collection of investigators – scientists, journalists and specialists – who probe credible incident reports throughout North America. Its database features field notes, government documents, witness interviews and lab analysis.
Moneymaker says there’s no doubt that Bigfoot exists, noting that there are 400 years worth of reports of such a creature.
But the crowd already knows Moneymaker’s history. They’re more interested in the future.
Moneymaker gives it to them in the form of a drone – or several. Sasquatch-hunting technology has come a long way from traipsing aimlessly through the woods and using a simple recorder, he says. With GPS, special cameras and live-streaming tech, drones can hunt much more strategically than ever before.
Until recently, Moneymaker says, the type of drones powerful enough to spot Bigfoot’s location cost around $9,000. Today, it’s down to about $1,000 – downright affordable by many Sasquatch-hunters’ standards.
Moneymaker has procured such drones, he says, explaining that he has a drone operator and a team of field investigators at the treeline near a local farm awaiting his command. On a large projector screen, he pulls up a real-time, bird’s-eye map showing the locations of his people. It looks similar to a battle-type video game in which opponents strategically move through different types of terrain. Though the picture is in greyscale, it’s clear where the fields, trees and humans are thanks to the drone’s thermal imaging.
“Wave your arms or something,” Moneymaker tells his team via cell phone, with the picture updating to show the humans doing just that.
The crowd gasps as the live event unfolds, and Moneymaker assures them that if Bigfoot is around, “We’ll see it.”
He asks the drone operator to pan to various points over the map, spotting unusual flickers that are obviously not people. The audience is thoroughly involved, pointing out different shapes and colors, with Moneymaker asking the field team to investigate certain areas. The room at the Mohican Lodge is quiet each time Moneymaker spots something or the field team mentions hearing Bigfoot’s tell-tale loud “knocks.” It’s obvious that everyone is hopeful that they just might witness history together.
The drone’s camera captures deer, rabbits and other small creatures scattered throughout the area, but there’s nothing so far that resembles a six-foot Sasquatch.
Because this is the first time the team is coordinating a live drone hunt, there are a lot of glitches, and each drone needs to return to its launch pad every 15 minutes to recharge its battery.
After two hours, there’s still no sign of Bigfoot.
Finding the believersIt’s day two of Bigfoot Basecamp, and nobody has come forward with any sightings from the previous night. Andres and BFRO have incident report cards that campers can complete should they come across the big guy or if they’d like to talk about an experience from their past.
In the meantime, though, guests are getting comfortable in their campsites and exploring the grounds. People pitch their tents and string lights around their camper awnings, while others seek out trail maps from the park’s information kiosk. One person in a Bigfoot costume hitches a ride on a golf cart with their dog.
Pleasant Hill Lake Park’s welcome center is ready for the throng. Inside, there’s a small device that shares what Bigfoot supposedly sounds like through howls, snorts, roars and groans. Charles Kimbrough, author of Squatchin’ 101: How To Start Doing Your Own Bigfoot Research, is giving tips to newbies who are eager to investigate the mystery. Vendors are setting out furry Sasquatch plushies in a range of sizes and colors, along with t-shirts, keychains, magnets and other trinkets with the creature’s likeness. Outside, people are making Bigfoot bracelets and tie-dying Bigfoot shirts.
Lori Jones is walking her dog Henry on the welcome center’s lawn overlooking the lake. She says she’s at Bigfoot Basecamp to hear what others have experienced.
“I just think you can be a believer in a lot of things, and I think that with the way life is today, I think you have to believe in other things and you have to be open to different possibilities,” Jones says. “I like to think that we are not necessarily the first inhabitants [of Earth]. I think that we are the aliens and something else was here before us.”
“I mean, there’s been scientific [evidence] since Albert Einstein and before him; people have always said there’s different dimensions, and then there are people who try to hush that. So there’s probably some truth to it,” Jones continues. “And whether or not Bigfoot really is – it could be a prehistoric animal from a different dimension, you know? I mean, anything’s possible.”
Jones says that while she hasn’t run into Bigfoot herself, she has “seen things in the sky,” recalling that government agents came to her house in New York when she was a child to investigate unusual occurrences. “Now as far as Bigfoot, to me, I think there’s probably been findings of one and it’s just been covered up. And I think our military’s gotten a lot of ideas from some of these things they cover up.”
Moneymaker has heard that and more. During a boat ride on Pleasant Hill Lake with reporters, he says that people who experience one type of mysterious phenomenon are both more open and more attuned to other types, especially in this region.
With its dense woods butting up to farmland, Ohio seems to attract mysterious activity, particularly in Ashland County. Moneymaker says the mix of the terrain is why the Buckeye State has so many documented Bigfoot reports – more humans here are directly interacting with nature through farming, hunting, boating, picnicking and exploring.
Southwest Ohio has had its share of incidents, too, according to the BFRO database. There are three reports for Butler County, two for Warren County and one for Hamilton County (Moneymaker even suggests that the five wild monkeys reportedly seen in Cincinnati’s West End in 2021 were actually Bigfoots).
Moneymaker says he’s personally encountered Sasquatch a number of times, including in the ‘90s in northern Ohio, when the creature emerged from the woods to growl at the explorer.
He also recorded the “Ohio Howl,” which is now famous in Bigfoot circles. During a 1994 investigation in Columbiana County – in the northeast portion of the state near the Pennsylvania border – Moneymaker heard a long, deep, intense moaning that he claims is Sasquatch. The noise sounds somewhat like an animal mimicking a police siren. In a recording available on the BFRO website, a listener can hear three of these sounds, in addition to an excited barking dog.
“Even natives in British Columbia nowadays – if they hear that sound, they call it the Ohio Howl,” Moneymaker says. “That’s how famous that recording is from 1994 here.”
Finding Bigfoot, finding reasonsThe day passes without anything resembling that howl, though plenty of people are sharing their own encounters during a town hall later that night. From knocks – Sasquatches reportedly knock deeply against trees to communicate with each other or to show dominance in an area – to large, shadowy figures, Basecampers have experienced Bigfoot in different ways, it seems.
Up in the campsite itself, people are enjoying nature as they please. Some are on an evening hunt with naturalists, while others are simply observing their surroundings from pit fires near their tents. Mike Schreiner says he and his girlfriend are “Bigfoot enthusiasts” and wanted to hear what Moneymaker would say. He especially enjoyed watching Moneymaker show off the drone tech, he says.
“Oh, that was cool. That was real cool,” he says. “We watched them do the video and got to see them do the heat [map].”
He pauses to grin as an unseen hiker mimics the Ohio Howl and then laughs as he tries to imagine what he’d do during a real Bigfoot encounter.
“I don’t know if I could describe it,” Schreiner says. “Listening to some of the testimony [during the town hall], some got emotional. I think that’s where I’d be. I don’t know what I’d do. What do you do in that type of situation?”
Eric Hood is sitting near a campfire with his 13-year-old son Lucas. They say they’re used to camping, but this is their first time on a Sasquatch adventure.
“I don’t, honestly, think I believe in Bigfoot. We just watched all the [Finding Bigfoot] shows and just came up for that,” Hood says. “Now don’t get me wrong – I think people really, truly believe they’ve seen something, whether it’s a Bigfoot or a misidentification or sometimes people want to see something.”
“But me, on the other hand, I’m the believer,” Lucas laughs, adding that Moneymaker had signed a shirt for him.
But not everybody is happy with Bigfoot Basecamp. A foursome is here celebrating a birthday but collectively says the weekend is a letdown.
“I have watched Finding Bigfoot ever since it came on. I really thought we were going to have more here,” says Roxy, the birthday woman. “I thought it was going to be more of an interactive thing at Basecamp and it wasn’t. Like, there’s nobody here.”
“Why couldn’t ‘Moneytaker’ come around and say hi? We looked forward to this all year long. This was her birthday present and it’s a wet blanket,” her male companion says. “It seemed like a lot of buildup for us to be – like, we wanted a turd, but all we got was a fart.”
Roxy adds that she saw Sasquatch when she was nine.
“I saw something in the woods stand up. It was not a bear. It was huge,” she says. “It had these long arms that reached out to its knees, and it was just a huge thing.”
That only makes her disappointment over the weekend that much greater, she says.
“The place is beautiful. The camping is great. The event that happened, I think, was unorganized,” she says.
As of press time, there are no reports of participants at Bigfoot Basecamp seeing the creature. The Pleasant Hill Lake Park team says it likely will host the event again.