North Georgia museum dedicated to documenting reports
A roadside attraction between two tourist towns in the Georgia mountains immerses visitors into a mystical world where a legendary creature dwells, at least in fake fur and people’s minds.
Expedition Bigfoot! The Sasquatch Museum in Cherrylog, Ga., between Ellijay and Blue Ridge, stocks 7,000 square feet of artifacts and evidence – footprint casts, hair wads, a knuckle bone, buttocks impression, dried turd, and more – purported to come from giant, hairy man-ape beings that some believe have walked the earth for centuries. Reports of large hirsute primates have also surfaced in counties surrounding Lake Lanier, according to the Big Foot Research Organization (BFRO) dedicated to investigating claims of bigfoot sightings, sounds, and prints.
Even before stepping out of the car near the feet of a huge, thatched manikin at the museum entrance, everyday humans get tuned up for an extraordinary experience. Bold dramatic music blares from amplifiers and whets the appetite for wildness outside of their mundane existence. Inside, the adventure deepens with weirdness around every turn. Artists’ renderings, hairy masks, blown up newspaper clippings, investigators’ tools, videos, a bigfoot bait list (they like grass-wrapped mice), encampment replica, and so much more cram every nook. Visitors stare and gasp and nod their heads in belief … or stifle their giggles in denial. Some remain mired in limbo.
Expedition Bigfoot founder David Bakara turned his Florida childhood fascination with human-beast reports into a Georgia mountain tourist attraction that grabs about 76,000 visitors a year. Bakara, a BRFO-certified investigator, started the museum with artifacts he collected before moving to North Georgia 11 years ago. In his ramblings around Ellijay and Blue Ridge, the 25-year restaurateur observed an uptick in families vacationing in the small towns. He heard tourist-after-tourist ask “Where’s a good place to take the kids?” and mutter “I wish someone would open up a family attraction.”
“I was already a researcher, a bigfoot investigator,” he said. He also had an array of hair samples, footprint casts, and items that he, friends and other researchers had stashed. “I tossed the idea around with my wife and decided to open up” a family magnet along the lines of an old Florida roadside attraction. He found the building on Ga. 515, invested money and dreams and opened up seven years ago. The first year fetched about 29,000 wide-eyed mystery seekers. A staff of seven runs the museum and gift shop seven days a week, except Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. “We never thought we’d be this busy,” Bakara said.
He developed a sensory experience that today’s kids crave. “There’s music, sounds … kids like to hear interesting things,” Bakara said. There’s even a lineup of headphones playing a recording of guttural groans from a purported bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, in 1974 in California’s Sierra Mountains.
The museum chronicles reports of other mysterious beings, including abominable snowmen (Yetis) and the Florida Skunk Ape that captured Bakara’s childhood intrigue. In the 1960s, “when I was a child of about 10 or 11 years old, I would watch the news with dad. Back then, it was just the news, serious stuff,” he recalled. When TV stations sent reporters to investigate skunk ape sightings and interview rangers in Fort Myers, Naples and the Everglades, the boy took it as legit. “It stuck with me.”
Bakara today possesses the visage of a vintage-aged Indiana Jones, with steely blue eyes, longish swept back gray hair, and a ready smile beneath a neatly cropped mustache. He talks with conviction and enthusiasm about the being that launched his Georgia business. You want to believe.
His first personal encounter with bigfoot phenomena came in 2011 while investigating an Alva, Fla. resident’s claims that a shaggy behemoth banged on windows, chased his dog, and ran screaming at the edge of the Everglades. He set up an overnight vigil in a yard strewn with fish innards. “We started the smoker, threw some fish heads in and waited. About an hour after dark, we said ‘My god, what is that?’ ” He focused a thermal imager toward sounds of popping and cracking. “There were two of them … sticking out on both sides of foot-wide trees. They were hiding their eyes.” He watched for 12 minutes.
The creatures portrayed at the bigfoot museum might be 7 to 8 feet tall, 400 pounds, and “hairy as an old bear.” Enlarged newspaper clippings cite witnesses’ claims of hearing tree branches crack, a “roar like a lion” and a shrill whistle. Taxidermied raccoons and fake pine boughs set the scene above big screens as images of large furry bi-peds emerge from California to New York. One screen focuses on “Horror in Dahlonega, Ga.” and reports rangers’ claims of spying three beings “7 ½ feet tall, covered in hair, except for its face, which looked like a chimp” ravaging a helicopter wreckage near Camp Merrill.
A lighted Georgia map posts spots where BFRO and Bakara have investigated “first-hand visual sightings.” Green pins illuminate sites in Dawson and Lumpkin counties, as well as in Lake Lanier’s headwaters on the Chattahoochee River.
“We do on occasion receive reports of such a mythical creature,” said Matt Hinman, wildlife biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources District 2, which covers northeast Georgia. “It’s a mythical animal, with no basis, no founding whatsoever … If people want to walk in the woods and look for bigfoot it’s a good way to lose weight.”
“There’s no credible evidence, not any kind of documentation, picture, track or specimen,” said District 1 DNR biologist David Gregory. In 22 years of studying wildlife in central and northwest Georgia, which includes the museum’s home county, Gregory has seen nothing to convince him of bigfoot’s existence. “We do get calls periodically from people who think they have seen something. We take a mental note and go on,” he said, adding that rangers must “prioritize what we do.”
Both biologists said no one has provided a bigfoot picture. “With all sorts of cameras out in the woods, no one has produced photographic evidence,” Gregory said. The odds of bigfoot’s existence are “really low, but I’m not saying yea or nay.”
“That’s the old standby, ‘show me a picture,’ ” Bakara said. “That’s really the smart thing for them to say … The minute they say they’re real, they’re on the hook for responding.”
Back at the museum on a dreary January Saturday, 10-year-old Colton Giorgi was among a steady stream of gawkers. He believes. “The world is a big place and we haven’t figured out everything,” said the Florida native. His grandfather, Marc Sullivan, admitted “the Patterson video” from Bluff Creek, California “won him over.” The scene of a huge, bushy, dark creature meandering upright in a clearing cannot be replicated by Hollywood or Disney, he and other bigfoot believers say.
“I’ve seen a print from when my dad and me used to hike. I’ve been a believer since I was a little girl,” said Lindsey Dukeminier, visiting from Alabama with Gen X-aged friends. Cohort Joshua Gibson, from Jacksonville, was thrilled at the exhibits but wasn’t convinced. “I feel like I need more proof.”
Even for the skeptic, the tourist attraction conjures a near-willing suspension of disbelief, similar to the childhood belief in fairies, flying saucers, and Santa. It’s a stop worth making to step out of the ordinary into a bigfoot world of possibility.
Photos: by Jane Harrison
Visit Expedition Bigfoot: A Sasquatch Museum
Hours: Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.. Last admission 4:30 p.m. Winter hours vary. Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas.
Admission: Adults/teens $8 plus tax; children 5-12 $6 plus tax; free to children younger than 5 and active military with ID.
Address: 1934 Ga. 515, Blue Ridge, Ga.
From founder David Bakara at www.expeditionbigfoot.com: “We at Expedition Bigfoot believe in the existence of Bigfoot/Sasquatch either from personal experience and encounters or from witness testimony and evidence. Our museum provides a lot of that evidence, and leaves the question of Bigfoot’s existence up to you.”
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