Enduring mysteries afoot in Pennsylvania

York Dispatch editorial board

There’s a Bigfoot mystery underway in Pennsylvania.

No, not whether the mythical creature exists. This mystery involves official-looking notices that have been turning up stapled to trees in various parks throughout the state warning of a “creature resembling ‘Bigfoot.’”

Who’s been distributing these posts?

Not the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The number of posted warnings and related social media chatter recently reached the point where the department felt compelled to respond.

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“(The notices) are removed when they are reported or found by staff because they have not been authorized by DCNR,” agency spokesman Wesley Robinson wrote in a statement to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Whatever their origin, the notices are straightforward. They advise hikers that, owing to alleged encounters with a Bigfoot-like creature, they should be cautious of their surroundings, avoid approaching any such animal and report their sightings to a ranger or the DCNR.

Such reports are not exactly uncommon. According to the Bigfoot Field Research Organization, there have been 125 reported Bigfoot sightings in Pennsylvania over the years. The most recent was submitted just this month by a pair of 73-year-old retirees out on a bike ride about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh:

“This is report is very reliable,” wrote a bigfoot research investigator who conducted a follow-up interview with the pair. “The witnesses definitely saw a tall dark sasquatch walking along Ghost Town Trail bike path between Nanty-Glo and Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, on October 5, 2022.”

There are thousands of similar reports nationwide, with Washington state leading the pack with more than 700, but the existence of the mysterious hominid has never been authenticated (making it, technically, a cryptid).

Still, for many Americans, as writer Ben Crair put it in a 2018 Smithsonian Magazine article on the subject, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Thus, interest continues unabated.

The Bigfoot Museum in Hastings, Nebraska, hosted its fifth annual Bigfoot Crossroads of America Conference this spring, just a few weeks before the Western North Carolina Bigfoot Festival was drawing researchers from throughout the southeast. Similar events were held this month in Missouri and South Carolina, while the 55th anniversary of arguably the most significant (and contested) piece of Bigfoot “evidence” — the filming of a mysterious figure walking along a creek in California — was commemorated.

And while Bigfoot has long been the domain of legend or conspiracy theorists, some scientists have taken to devoting serious research to the topic, aggregating reports and searching for DNA evidence and hair samples.

“I think everyone relates to Bigfoot a little bit, because it’s a mystery that has yet to be solved,” Laurell Petolicchio, co-owner of the West Virginia Bigfoot Museum, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting upon the museum’s opening last year. “And I think as human beings, we just love the unknown.”

In Pennsylvania, make that two unknowns: Whether sightings of the mythic monster are legitimate and who’s posting those warnings across state parks.

The mysteries may never be solved. But when it comes to conspiracy theories, those surrounding the existence of beings like Bigfoot are more fun, less dangerous and flat-out preferable to those surrounding, say, presidential elections.