Published: 9:27 AM - 10-03-11
Autumn is almost in the air and hiking season in South Florida is about to begin.
It looks like it might be a dry season making the southernmost portion of the Florida Trail easily accessible for hikers and back packers.
This is Florida Bigfoot country. This is the home of the elusive Ochopee Skunk Ape, Florida’s Bigfoot.
Hoax? Mystery? Scientific Fact? There are as many opinions about the Skunk Ape as there are mosquitoes in the Everglades.
In case you missed Animal Planet’s series on Big Foot last summer, it included a one hour segment on Florida’s Skunk Ape, ultimately concluding that based on the evidence and encounters that, “There are Skunk Apes here in Florida.”
Dave Shealy, whose family has lived in the Everglades since 1891, operates the Ochopee Skunk Ape Research Center on Tamiami just a mile east of the famous Ochopee Post Office, smallest post office in the United States.
His first encounter with the 7 foot upright hairy creature of 350 pounds occurred when Dave was a boy. Since, he has spent a lifetime researching the habits and behavior of the furry primate.
In 1997 Dave managed to take a distant photo of the creature moving through the prairie grasses of Big Cypress. The photo is on display at his Center, ultimately resulting in appearances on the Travel Channel, Learning Channel and Unsolved Mysteries.
In addition he has been featured in Readers Digest, and dozens of Florida publications. Right now Dave is said to be working on an unannounced Bigfoot project with the Discovery Channel.
As one of the landholders within Big Cypress Preserve, Dave has experimented with baiting the Bigfoot over the years which could only be accomplished on private property.
The Skunk Ape’s favorite is, drum roll please, lima beans. Dave likes to clear an area, rake up the mud and drop the beans in the middle, hoping to at least see tracks where the primate must walk through the mud to get to the beans. Other baits are listed in his “Everglades Skunk Ape Research Field Guide” available at the Center.
The Native Americans of the Everglades, both the Miccosukee and the Seminole, are reticent about discussing Big Foot. They identify with the large reclusive creature and respect his ability to coexist in the swamp. But they consider his presence private and his right to live peacefully, sacred. Looking for information or corroboration from that community is not fruitful.
To catch a glimpse of Florida’s Bigfoot, hike The Trail, walk the beaches of the Ten Thousand Islands, spend some time along Turner River Road and brave the remote prairie and sloughs of the Everglades. Watch for footprints. Sniff the air for a combination smell of methane gas and 5 day old road-kill. Stay upwind of whatever you stalk.
Your trip plan for an expedition into Big Cypress should include listening carefully for wood knocking in the night when the Skunk Ape, like his Bigfoot cousins, seems to amuse himself by knocking a log against a stump—a sound that carries for miles through the swamp.
Wear snake boots because once you have seen the giant boas in the collection at the Research Center, you are going to worry more about snakes than apes. And finally, consider leaving the lima beans at home unless you want to awaken in the night to a furry giant going through your pack.