Bigfoot in the Central Savannah River Area? (CSRA)
Forget about the occasional wayward bear — a local man thinks we might have
June 16 - 22, 2010 -- Augusta, Georgia -- Dave Collier has never come face to face with a Bigfoot, but he’s talked to plenty of people who have.
“I believe that sightings and encounters are more common than most people believe,” he says. “And what surprised me the most when I started this was how many there were in this area.”
By this area, the Martinez resident doesn’t mean the Southeast, and he’s not just talking Georgia.
Collier means right here in the CSRA.
Working for a public utility, Collier is perfectly positioned to be a Bigfoot researcher. He’s out among the public all day, often in rural locations, he deals with people in a relatively relaxed setting, and he deals with a lot of them.
Though he’s consumed by the Bigfoot question — does it exist and if it does, how has it managed to remain so elusive for all these years — he doesn’t come right out and ask people if they’ve ever seen Bigfoot. That kind of directness would just shut them down.
But if he sees evidence that the person might be an outdoorsman, he’ll eventually steer the small talk around to the outdoors, maybe starting with some fishing or hunting stories before moving toward an icebreaker like, “So… have you ever run across anything unusual in the woods?”
While he admits the belief spectrum is pretty wide as far as Sasquatch is concerned, he says quite a few have actually confessed to having had some kind of encounter.
“And that’s just sampling the smallest, random percentage of the population,” he says.
The more people he talks to, the less surprised he is by what on the surface seems like such a disproportional response.
“The vast majority of people who have an encounter don’t call the media or the sheriff, they just want to keep it to themselves,” he says. “They don’t want to expose themselves to ridicule.”
Collier knows about ridicule. Like all Bigfoot researchers, he’s taken his share of ribbing and dodged some, too, like the close call he had a while back when WGAC talk-show host Austin Rhodes got a hold of one of the flyers he’s distributed throughout town.
“That could have been bad,” he says with a chuckle. “He could have really let me have it.”
“Bigfoot information wanted,” the poster reads. “Any sightings or encounters with large, manlike animals sometimes called Sasquatch, Bigfoot or swamp ape. All reports wanted.”
Collier devotes most of his free time to his hobby. He has read thousands of reports and is constantly amazed by what he considers the sincerity of the stories. If people wanted to make something up, he says, they could do a far better job.
“If it hits below the Holy Crap mark,” he says, “it’s probably true.”
Collier’s Holy Crap threshold might be a bit higher than most, however. Plenty of what he’s come across in his day-to-day interactions is downright mystifying.
Like the guy outside Thomson who found his fishing trotline pulled up on shore with the bodies of his catch twisted off and the heads still on the hooks. Or the guy in Graniteville who saw a hairy figure clear a large incline in only two strides.
Or, even closer to home, several encounters sprinkled along the Savannah River in Columbia County.
Kids who grew up in that area a few years ago talk of a hairy creature they would sometimes see in the woods when they would venture out to their secret spot to party.
They called it the Wolfman.
One guy Collier talked to remembers coming up on it and running away, another talked about seeing one wrestle with a beaver just around the corner from that first sighting, and yet another heard strange howling sounds, as if a group of animals were closing in on their prey.
“All of a sudden, I’m finding a grouping over there,” Collier says.
So, as he often does, he decided to go out and see for himself. Granted, it was a couple of years later, but to him it made sense to try. Sure, the area had become more developed, but the Sumter National Forest was still right across the water.
Looking for prints and stick formations (researchers suspect Sasquatches may actually bend small trees and position branches as a form of communication) is a daytime activity, but a Bigfoot investigation like this occurs at night.
“It was so dark that I had to use an LED light to stay on the trail,” he says.
When he got to the end of the trail, he whacked a tree with a piece of wood, a technique called wood knocking, which is thought to be another form of communication.
Something knocked in reply.
“The next thing I know, I hear something coming through the woods all the way across the water… coming toward me,” Collier says.
Then, in the still, cool silence of early morning, he heard something walking back and forth on the other side of the water.
“So, I’m hearing this breaking brush and then finally the sun just barely cracks and I hear this huge limb snap off, and I think — whoa, whatever that was, it was big.”
As exciting as it was, Collier knows that to some his encounter is incomplete.
“All I have is a story,” he says. “I heard something, but I didn’t see anything.”
“It looked like a huge human track except for it was kind of a flatfooted human,” he remembers. “It didn’t make that much of an impression on the ground because the ground was so hard back there.”
Hovatter set his gun barrel beside the print and gauged it to be about 22 inches long and about nine inches across the ball of the foot.
In that same area, in the vicinity of a nearly impenetrable thicket at the bottom of the ravine, he noticed what he thought were about a dozen very large ant hills.
“We dug down to the bottom,” he said, “but it was just sand piled on the ground.”
No ants. No ant holes.
“It was like a three- or four-gallon bucket was dumped there,” he says.
In spite of the track and the strange piles of sand, he returned another day to investigate the thicket. It was a decision he will never forget.
“I heard something up on the other side of that hill,” he says. “I looked, and some animal came rolling down that hill that wasn’t even on its feet most of the time. It was a little bit far away to tell what it was or exactly how big it was, but I could see it was dark and I could see this salt-and-pepper look about it.”
He swung around the ravine to cut back on the creature and got a strong whiff of something that smelled like vomit.
“That’s what it was,” he says. “There was a big pile of it up there. About three gallon’s worth, I’d say. I took a stick and investigated it, and it had a piece of deer skin in there that was about two feet square.”
Hovatter figures the deer skin, which was partially missing its hair, had made the creature sick, because the rest of the pile consisted of poorly chewed acorns.
“That really made me wonder what it was, so I started in [the small opening he found in the thicket] and I only got about 10 or 12 feet in there when I heard something coming toward me… and there it was. It was this man-ape looking thing, all covered with this super-dark hair, expect I could still see that flaking of grey. This thing apparently lived in there, and I didn’t like the look on its face.”
Having the presence of mind to compare it to a basketball hoop, he estimates it was 10 feet tall and nearly five feet across the shoulders, which is considered big even in the Bigfoot community.
“Its arms were massive, but proportionally they were a little bit longer than a man’s arms,” he says. “I didn’t see any ears and its hair was kind of short, almost like a hound dog. It didn’t have any hair around its eyes or its mouth or its nose, and I suppose the palms of its hands and the soles of its feet didn’t have any hair on them, either.”
The pathway was extremely narrow, and knowing he didn’t want to provoke the creature, which he says looked disturbed by his presence, he resisted the urge to run, and though he had his gun, a 16-gauge, semi-automatic shotgun loaded with slugs, he says he never considered using it.
“I felt like I had a BB gun in my hands,” he says. “Comparing it to horses and cows, I’d say it weighed at least 1,000 pounds, maybe as much as a hundred more.”
Slowly, he continued to back up until he was out of the thicket. The creature remained inside.
“I went right up to the head of the ravine, up to the rifle range and back to my truck,” he says. “Lord, was I glad to get back into my truck.”
He told his brother in Tennessee about the encounter, and his brother rounded up someone from a natural resources organization, who called Fort Gordon to get permission to investigate. When they arrived, however, the ravine had been bulldozed and the thicket was gone.
Hovatter had another sighting during the fall of 1991, at the Yuchi Wildlife Management Area in Burke County, when he saw a hairy, bipedal creature sitting down at the base of a tree.
Though it might seem strange for one person to have two separate encounters while so many of the rest of us have never even had one, Hovatter says it’s all a function of his relationship with the outdoors.
“Most people when they go hunting don’t go very far from their vehicle because they figure if they get a deer, how are they going to get it back,” he says. “Me — I don’t really go deer hunting to kill a deer. I just enjoy being out, so I don’t worry about that kind of thing. I get way back in there.”
To Collier, Hovatter’s encounter is additionally significant because it coincides with two other sightings in the same general area at the same general time, including one he recently discovered where an area woman saw one near the Dearing Ponds.
According to the witness, a creature about the same size as the one observed by Hovatter rose up out of one of the ponds covered in green algae.
“If this is all just a bunch of BS, it’s strange that you start getting these clusters,” Collier says.
Besides that, he says, if somebody’s trying to pull a fast one, what’s the point of coming up with such detailed information and then setting it 30-some years in the past? And what are the odds of hearing it as a result of a purely random inquiry?
Spearheading the coordinated research into the Bigfoot mystery is the Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BFRO). Established in 1995, the group has a few hundred active members spread across the continental U.S. and Canada, including a few in Georgia, mostly in the southeast corner of the state.
According to Mike Aragona, a curator and investigator, BFRO investigators come from all walks of life, though most have one predominant similarity.
“The majority of the people grew up in the ’70s with the whole Roger Patterson footage,” he says.
Taken in 1967, the Patterson Footage, which shows a hairy, human-like creature walking through the woods, made Bigfoot a household name across the nation, spawning such ’70s classics as “The Legend of Boggy Creek.” Soon, Bigfoot became a tabloid staple and a cameo player in shows like “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “In Search Of.”
A few men of science, like anatomy and anthropology professor Dr. Jeff Meldrum and fingerprint expert Jimmy Chilcutt, brought scientific and forensic credentials to the search, but mostly the academic world has taken a pass on Sasquatch.
“Overall, I don’t think the academic community is accepting that these creatures exist,” Aragona says. “It’s a level of arrogance, really. It’s people who don’t go out in the woods, who already have it set in their minds that there’s no way they’re out there.”
Using the reach and power of the Internet, BFRO founder Matthew Moneymaker set out to create an informational clearinghouse for Bigfoot information.
On the BFRO Web site, bfro.net, witnesses can submit detailed reports of their sightings, whether recent or historical, and have them classified in two ways: as an outright sighting like Hovatter’s, or as an encounter with evidence like vocalizations, woodknocks or footprints.
The Web site lists thousands of sightings, including 79 in Georgia.
As for what exactly the creature is, Aragona says they’re getting closer to an answer.
“The overall consensus in the BFRO and the greater Bigfoot community is that it’s a primate, either like us or like the great apes,” he says. “It might be a giant ape like gigantopithecus that’s managed to survive. Whatever it is, it’s an intelligent primate.”
Detractors, of course, would say that the existence of some kind of prehistoric cousin is next to impossible, but Aragona says such common logic doesn’t always make sense.
First of all, as a species we’ve been through a lot ourselves without going extinct, and, in order to survive side by side with us, a Bigfoot-like creature would have to have mastered skills of evasion, like being nocturnal, being shy and living ever deeper in the woods, he says.
“We believe their only natural enemy is man,” Collier says. “We actually believe they avoid making tracks.”
While that might seem like a convenient excuse for a general lack of evidence, in recent months Collier himself has come across some interesting tracks, and while he admits they are far from conclusive, they’re nevertheless enough to make him go, “Hmm.” And to him, that’s what the quest for Bigfoot is all about.
“I guess it fascinates me because, at my age, there aren’t many more mysteries in life,” he says. “If one eventually does get nailed by a car or something, I guess it will be kind of fun to say ‘I told you so,’ but the other side of me is like, well, there goes that hobby.”
Aragona agrees it’s going to take a body to convince modern science of Bigfoot’s existence.
Any other evidence, including the heralded “Kentucky” footage he says should be released this fall, will always be suspect.
Hovatter, however, doesn’t need convincing.
“I know one thing — I don’t feel safe in any area where they are if I’m not armed… and I don’t feel real safe then,” he says. “I would not go out at night and get out of a vehicle, that’s for sure. I’m 71 years old and I’d like to live to at least what the average is.”
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