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Media Article # 363
Article submitted by Wayne Ford -

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Tales of Bigfoot legend include sightings in Georgia - even Clarke County

By Wayne Ford
Athens Banner-Herald

Elkins Creek, where several footprints of an alleged Bigfoot were found, flows into the Flint River in Pike County.
Steve Hyde/Special

Jack Hovatter was hunting in the forests on the Fort Gordon Army base near Augusta in the fall of 1979 when he saw a huge footprint that would lead to the biggest shock of his life.

''I thought it was two bear tracks, and I didn't know there were bears around here. My son was off to the side and he said, 'No Dad, that's one track.'''

Hovatter, who is retired from the military and lives in Augusta, said he kept thinking about the track, so he returned to the area more than a week later to see if he could find what made it. The track was near a thicket that at first Hovatter thought was nearly impenetrable until he located a path leading inside.

''I got inside and here that thing came. It's not like it was trying to catch me. It was trying to scare me,'' he said.

What Hovatter saw was a bipedal apelike creature covered in thick hair. It was about 10-feet tall or slightly taller. It came within 15 feet of him.

''I wanted to turn and run, but I've always heard that with a wild animal that's a bad thing to do. I had a shotgun, but it was too big and too close,'' he said. ''It seems like a 16-gauge shotgun is a powerful weapon until I saw something that big, that close up. It felt like I had a .22.''

Hovatter, who backed out of the thicket, said he couldn't believe the animal's size and the width of its shoulders.

''I'd seen the film Roger Patterson made (in northern California of a supposed Bigfoot), but I wasn't expecting anything that big,'' he said.

''It didn't look like it was trying to look vicious. It was an ugly face anyway. It just looked stern, like it meant business,'' he recalled.

''The face was not exactly like a gorilla, but somewhat similar. I hear people say they think these things are human. Well that means they haven't seen one. Just because they walk on two legs doesn't mean they are near-human. If they see one they will change their mind.''

Do the creatures called Bigfoot exist? No one has proven one way or the other, but reported sightings of the creatures are not confined to the Pacific Northwest. In fact, sightings have been reported in all states of the South.

John Butler, an Atlanta-area special education teacher who is working on his doctorate in education, took an interest in the mystery several years ago. Although he has never seen one, he believes the animals exist based on his research.

Many people still have the misconception, he said, that Bigfoot ''is one solitary joker walking around from coast to coast. They don't realize there are many of them.''

Butler said people have reported sightings from the North Georgia mountains to the South Georgia swamps. There are still many remote areas ''relatively untouched by humans,'' he said.

Steve Hyde, who works for a rock company in the Griffin area, searches for the animals in central and South Georgia.

His friend, former deputy sheriff James Akin, made a plaster cast of a print that contained dermal ridges, the same kind of ridges that make up fingerprints. The print, which was 17.5 inches long, was found along Elkins Creek in Pike County following reports of barn damage and animals disappearing on a man's farm, according to Hyde. The only other supposed Bigfoot prints with dermal ridges were cast in the Pacific Northwest. The ridges are different from humans and known apes.

''The Elkins Creek cast enabled scientists like Dr. Jeff Meldrum at Idaho State University and dermal expert Jimmy Chilcutt to better demonstrate that Bigfoot is not only a real animal, it can be demonstrated to be a unique species,'' Hyde said.

Hyde said people are surprised and usually skeptical about the existence of Bigfoot in this area because ''not only is it something completely outside their own experiences here, they usually don't see how something like that could possibly survive in Georgia's woods, particularly without being seen more often.''

Hyde believes the Bigfoot occupy the same biological niche in the environment that bear do, with similar diets, feeding habits and ranges - the primary difference is Bigfoot are nocturnal and bears scavenge for food mostly during the day.

Case in point, the Department of Natural Resources estimates there are hundreds, if not thousands, of black bears in central Georgia.

''This surprises a lot of people, especially since black bear are difficult to find when you're hunting them and rarely, if ever, seen at random,'' Hyde said.

At least two organizations listed on the Internet collect Bigfoot sighting reports and both have ample reports from Georgia. Both groups have said they try to weed out unreliable reports before posting them on the Web site.

The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization lists 20 such reports from Georgia. Adjacent counties show 53 reports in Florida, 20 in South Carolina and 29 in Tennessee. In comparison, Washington state has 285 reports.

The Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization shows 17 counties in Georgia with Bigfoot reports.

At least one sighting of a creature near Athens is claimed by a man, who has been in law enforcement for 33 years.

Now involved in jail administration, the officer, who declined to have his name used, was a young deputy for the Clarke County Sheriff's Office in 1971 when he and a partner were called to a report of a suspicious prowler outside a trucking business north of Athens. Back then, it was a rural area.

''When we got out of the car, there was this god-awful smell,'' he recalled. At least two people were there burning something in old oil drums, but it wasn't the smoke they smelled.

''We were talking and somebody said, 'That looks like something over there.' I mean the hair on the back of my neck stood up,'' he said. ''It looked 7 or 8 feet tall and it walked like a human being.''

He remembers they called the animal a Yeti, a term used mostly for a similar creature alleged to live in the Himalayan mountain range.

When he returned to the police station, he was laughed at by other officers. So he has preferred to keep his sighting anonymous.

But Hovatter isn't sensitive about the fact he claims to have encountered an unidentified animal.

Those who ridicule the possibility such creatures exist ''haven't seen one,'' he said. ''And they're not likely to because the people (who) laugh about this are the people who don't go out in places like this.''

''I know it because I saw it, and if they don't believe me, they don't have to. I don't mind talking about it,'' he said. ''I know what I saw.''

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