by Jessica Greene 1997

Picture a place where the Everglades meet the Big Cypress Swamp, where the sky joins the land of a dozen legends, where guys "wrastle" gators, race swamp buggies, and collect snakes. The marshy earth is crawling with mosquitoes, snakes, and.big hairy monsters? What's wrong with this picture?

Local legend says the muddy land is home for a mysterious creature. For hundreds of years, something has hovered at the edges, haunting the shadows, chilling the territory. Could it be a Glades gorilla? Is it a swamp Sasquatch? Many people in the Everglades know what it is; they call it the Skunk Ape, named so for its hair covered body and pungent odor of rotten eggs and moldy cheese. Their accounts tell the story of Florida's own Bigfoot. Bo Johnson struts barefoot through each day. He fearlessly runs airboat tours, telling tales to those who will lend an interested ear. Bo says he's seen many things, especially one that just doesn't make sense. Dave Shealy runs a local tour business and gift shop. He's a sort of every man in overalls, unorthodox and uneducated.

Dave reports strange sightings in the area, but admits he's never seen anything that resembles a skunk ape.

Kimberly Lamp has made the Everglades her lifelong home. Now a grandmother, she has carved out a career as a performer and artist. Kimberly believes in it, says there are too many stories that sound real. One of the stories too real to be anything but fact is Steve Goodbread's. He swears the seven-foot tall hairy being he saw was the Skunk Ape. He knows the July heat would have kept any prankster from wearing a full body gorilla suit and the gators would have scared anyone away. Watching over the entire wilderness is the U.S. Park Service and watching over the Service is Wally Hibbard. He wears a badge, loves the land, and has little time for legends. Ranger Wally knows there is something strange wandering Everglades Park. For Fire Chief Vince Doerr, the odd event began this summer, around dusk on a dusty road near his house in the swamp.

Chief Doerr saw something he will never forget, and took a picture to prove the 'you'll never believe what I saw' story. The chief wasn't sure what he saw but says he knew it wasn't a bear; it was upright for too long. The photo he took that July night has become the latest exhibit in the Skunk Ape saga. You can barely see it through the trees, but in the distance, there stands a brown lump. At about the same time Chief Doerr snapped the now famous shot, tourists and locals swore they spotted something mysterious in the swamp.

Bo Johnson says he saw it in the headlights of his truck as he headed back from a camping trip. He was miles away from civilized life, but he knows there was something on two feet out in the woods.

Dave Shealy believes he found tracks from those two feet. Cast in plaster, they measure over a foot long each and nearly half a foot wide. Shealy theorizes that heavy infestation of mosquitoes drove the Skunk Ape from the mangroves.

The stories are countless. Could so many people be wrong? Yes.

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