Bigfoot Believers Gather at Retreat To Swap Stories

CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (AP) -
Peter Wiemer delivers opening remarks Saturday at the Bigfoot Expo in Chautauqua, N.Y. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)
Peter Wiemer delivers opening remarks Saturday at the Bigfoot Expo in Chautauqua, N.Y. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)

Bigfoot believers gathered Saturday in western New York, convinced the legendary Sasquatch has left its footprints all over the region. About 100 people sported buttons saying “I believe” and swapped stories at the fourth annual Chautauqua Lake Bigfoot Expo.

Organizer Peter Wiemer knows it may not be the first topic that comes to mind in the rural county, best known for the Chautauqua Institution, a summer retreat devoted to scholarly and artistic pursuits.

“You say ‘Bigfoot’ in a room full of people and watch everyone stop and look to see who’s talking,” he said with a laugh. And while he may have started the event as a way to draw people to the tourist-dependent region and his family’s rental cottages, he said he has since met dozens of people who are certain they’ve seen one of the ape-like creatures in the area.

Wiemer has even tried to get New York to list Sasquatch as an endangered species, alongside the mud turtle, the golden eagle and the cougar.

The Department of Environmental Conservation isn’t convinced. Its 2012 response in part: “This mythical animal does not exist in nature or otherwise. … No program or action in relation to mythical animals is warranted.”

Don’t tell that to Julia Karanasky, who says she became aware of a large figure clearing its throat outside her window on her second night in her Niagara Falls home in 2009. Then she heard the stories of regular Bigfoot sightings on the nearby Tuscarora Indian Reservation.

“I think he came to my house that night,” said Karanasky, who sat in the front row for the expo’s lectures.

Speakers included Steve Kulls, an Adirondacks-based Sasquatch detective who debunks Bigfoot hoaxes while seeking out credible reports, and Ken Gerhard, a cryptozoologist in pursuit of evidence of mystery creatures including the Loch Ness Monster, the chupacabra and werewolves.