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Ken DeMenge of Wrenshall shows off his "Squatch" tattoo, and the autographs he got from "Finding Bigfoot" stars Cliff Barackman and Ranae Holland. DeMenge said he got the tattoo when friends nicknamed him Squatch after he got a photograph of his own foot inside an alleged Bigfoot track from Six Mile Lake by Remer, MN. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal

Is Bigfoot now in Carlton County?

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Is Bigfoot now in Carlton County?
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

Add Bigfoot to the list of possible animals that call northern Minnesota home.

Over the past three or four years there have been multiple alleged sightings of a tall, hairy, long-limbed creature in Carlton County. While most of the reported sightings have occurred in the countryside between Kettle River and Wright, at least two more were reported in the Sturgeon Lake area. Other folks claim to have heard sounds - with descriptions ranging from screams to low grunts or moans - noises that longtime residents claim are unlike any they've heard before. And, of course, there are footprints.

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Whether or not you believe a North American ape man could be living among us, the internet is littered with stories, photographs and video taken in numerous states that might portray a Bigfoot creature. Closer to home, several recent reported sightings of a tall, hairy, long-limbed creature in Carlton County piqued the interest of the cable television show, "Finding Bigfoot." The show's cast and crew traveled to Carlton County this week to attempt - once again - to prove the existence of the creature.

On Monday, "Finding Bigfoot" held a town-hall style meeting at the Lakeview Community Center southwest of Wright.

It was standing room only inside the old white wooden building. All 100 seats were full within minutes with more standing and sitting along the walls and floors and in the hallway outside the big meeting room. Ages ranged from under 5 to over 80. While not everyone in the room was a Bigfoot believer, most of them were at least Bigfoot enthusiasts, and/or fans of the "Finding Bigfoot" show.

When the program's Cliff Barackman asked folks to raise their hands if they'd actually seen Sasquatch (another name for Bigfoot), close to eight hands went up. When he asked if anyone had heard the creature, the number of hands in the air doubled. Then, when Barackman asked if people had been hearing stories of sightings and other Bigfoot evidence, it seemed like nearly every person in the room raised a hand.

It was, the cast and crew agreed, the largest crowd they've seen yet for the program's signature meeting, held simply so the cast and crew can hear as many stories as people want to tell before they head out into the fields and forests to try to track down the elusive creature.

"You have 'Squatchy' terrain here," said Matt Moneymaker, the founder and president of the Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BFRO). "You have a lot of excellent Bigfoot hiding places here - green belts that connect farmlands where the deer like to graze - and we know Sasquatch like deer."

Audience members didn't need much prodding to start telling their stories.

"The ground shook"

Kristy Aho told how she and her children were sitting on the family's four-wheeler three years ago September, waiting for her husband, when they heard a loud crash and then something running so hard they felt the ground shake.

"I saw it run by about 15 or 20 feet away," she said. "I saw its profile, it was running through thick Alder brush - brush we couldn't even walk through - swinging its arms. It had dark hair, kind of longer, shaggy-looking hair but not real thick. You could kind of see through to the skin."

Her husband, Dale Aho, got a different view of the creature, Kristy said, estimating its height at between 8 and 9 feet.

"He had gone into the woods and was circling back toward us when he saw it crouched down," she related. "It jumped up and started running when it saw him, that was the crash we heard. He saw the whole back of it."

The next time the Aho family had a run-in with Bigfoot was the following July. They were driving past a trail in their pickup truck at dusk when they spotted two big red eyes reflecting the glow of the truck's running lights. They backed up and looked, and saw a large hairy creature standing maybe 200 feet away.

"This one actually seemed even bigger," she said. "It stood there for a while, and we just sat there in the truck, watching. Then it started walking toward us, sort of swaying in a threatening manner it seemed, swinging its arms. It walked about halfway and we got out of there. The kids were crying in the back of the truck. It was scary."

Ranae Holland was the first of the "Finding Bigfoot" cast to question Kristy; she asked if there are also black bears in the area.

"I've seen bear, and there's no way what I saw was a bear," Kristy said. It had a kind of hood-shaped head and it was human shaped, but way too big to be human."

Watching on the road

Jenna Wilenius said she was on the return leg of a four-mile run on County Road 30 at about 4 p.m. June 12, 2010, when her dog suddenly began acting strangely. Rather than roaming far and wide as it usually did, the dog started running right at her side, and looking backward in a fearful manner.

"To be honest, I didn't want to look back," Wilenius told the crowd. "When I finally did look back it was like a tenth of mile away, standing in the natural position, just looking at me. It wasn't a bear. It had very long arms and legs and black hair. I think it was 10 or 11 feet tall."

"I'm thinking that's the fastest mile you ever ran," Holland said to Jenna with a smile.

Jenna's neighbor, John Gran, stood up and told how he was driving past the Wilenius home the next day when he saw something standing between the garage and the pine trees.

"It was about the same height as the garage eve," he said, noting later that he saw a light-colored face and black body with long legs. "I should have stopped, but I was in a hurry to go and mow. It kept bothering me, though, so the next day I stopped at the end of their drive at the same time of day. There was nothing there. No shadows. Nothing that I could have mistaken."

Photographic evidence?

Cromwell's Carl Switzer stepped forward with three copies of the same photograph taken on a trail camera that show trees and a crow on the ground, and a portion of something large and furry on the right hand side.

"I've been hiding this picture for about a year," he cracked before the meeting started. "My buddies always say it looks like something. I heard about this, I figured I'd bring it."

Looking at the photo, it is difficult to clearly identify the animal or even get a sense of how big it is. There are markings that could be eyes and a mouth, but they are lower down on the figure than a face logically would appear.

"I'm seeing a moose derriere," Holland said.

Her fellow cast members weren't so sure and asked Switzer if he could provide them with the original digital photo. He said he would.

Forgot his camera

Bud Olson has a nice 35 mm camera with a zoom lens, but it wasn't in his truck the morning he took the newspaper over to his neighbor's house. Just the day before, he and his son-in-law had heard a weird noise - something they couldn't identify - when they were gathering sap.

"When I came back across the railroad tracks, there's this big black thing sitting on the bank, right along the railroad," Olson told the crowd. "I stopped my [Ford] Ranger and just sat and watched, maybe eight minutes. I could see I made it nervous. The hair on its head grew way down its back; it was black as this shirt. It got up and walked on two back feet. It was no bear."

When Olson went back later to look for footprints, he didn't find any on the gravel by the tracks or the grassy embankment. Next time, he said, he hopes to have the camera with him.

Moneymaker marveled at the fact that so many claimed to have seen Bigfoot in broad daylight, including Lorraine Tomczak of Automba Township, who said she saw a Bigfoot-like creature peering in the window of an abandoned trailer, then watched it leave and cross the two-lane road with only a few strides.

After two little boys told how they had seen Bigfoot watching them from outside their home, Moneymaker reassured them and the others at the meeting that the creatures have never harmed anyone.

"They know humans mean trouble, but they're also kind of curious," he said. "If you get to see one, you're very lucky. And if you ever have the opportunity to film or photograph one, do it.... And send it to us."

While no one at Monday's meeting provided any solid evidence that Sasquatch does, indeed, live in Minnesota or anywhere else, more than a dozen people stayed after the meeting to give the "Finding Bigfoot" crew details of where they had seen or heard the creature.

Others stood around outside, swapping stories or posing for photographs with cast members. Enthusiasts noted that some of the sightings had occurred within a couple miles of the community center where the meeting was held.

Margaret Olson Webster figures she lost several pails of sap courtesy of the creature.

"I was out collecting maple syrup and I brought a load into camp when I heard this strange noise," the lifetime Cromwell resident said. "I've heard a lot of animals; this was not an animal. I've heard a lot of people do lots with their voices; this was not a person. I just froze. I stood awhile, then I heard the sound again, like something was trying to scare me away. I decided I was going to go collect another load of sap. When I came back, there were six pails of sap dumped on the ground.

"I looked for tracks. I went to make sure nothing had come through the property where there is a house. I couldn't find anything. I think I can safely say it wasn't human and it wasn't an animal either."

After hearing the stories and calling a halt to the meeting - which was being filmed by crew members - as the evening light faded, Moneymaker sounded hopeful.

"Maybe this will be the place we'll actually get some footage," he said.

Editor's note: "Finding Bigfoot" crew members didn't know when the Minnesota episode of the show will air, but figured it would be sometime next year. Keep an eye on the Pine Journal for more information as it becomes available.

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Jana Peterson
(218) 879-1950
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