By Katie Dunn
The Coalfield Progress
Megafauna including bears and deer regularly frequent High Knob’s steep slopes, but could the ever-elusive Bigfoot also roam the mountainside?
A team from Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” series thinks it’s a strong possibility.
In late October, the crew spent a week in Southwest Virginia investigating a reported Bigfoot sighting for an upcoming episode in the series’ second season.
“We were brought to Virginia by an intriguing piece of video evidence that many people in the area have dubbed ‘The Beast of Gum Hill,’” said Chad Hammel, the series’ supervising producer, via e-mail.
“While there isn’t an abundance of reports coming from this area, we felt that there were probably more encounters with Bigfoots than have been reported and wanted to investigate,” he said.
The evidence in question is an amateur video shot in 2009.
The film, which can be found on YouTube, opens with a man riding his all-terrain vehicle in a creek, presumably in the Gum Hill area of western Washington County, south of Mendota.
The camera follows the man as he rides farther upstream when suddenly a bulky, brown bipedal creature calmly walks across the creek in front of the vehicle.
The driver stops and points at the creature.
Someone yells, “What was that?” and the camera fades to black.
The Animal Planet crew spent Oct. 17-24 filming in the Gum Hill area.
Other regional locations will be featured in the episode as well, including Saltville, Damascus and Wise County’s own High Knob.
Hammel said the team was drawn to the High Knob area because of the “topography and thick forest,” two elements that create an ideal location for a diversity of wildlife, including, apparently, Bigfoot.
The area also has a history of Bigfoot sightings, he said.
Several eyewitness accounts have occurred in Wise County over the years, including one on High Knob, according to the Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization, which documents Bigfoot sightings statewide.
One online posting by “Josh” notes that he and a friend saw a creature that was between seven and eight feet tall with “shaggy hair” while hunting near the High Knob fire tower in January 2006 [near Norton].
Whenever or wherever these sightings occurred on High Knob, they were never reported to the U.S. Forest Service, according to Jorge Hersel, district ranger for the Clinch Ranger District.
The district manages 92,000 acres of the Jefferson National Forest, including the High Knob Recreation Area.
“There have been no verifiable sightings of any creature with the description of Bigfoot,” Hersel said.
“Also, we have no records of receiving a report of a creature with the description of a Bigfoot by the numerous hunters, loggers, hikers or other users of the national forest.”
Hersel said one of the district’s law enforcement officers stumbled upon the Animal Planet crew on a Sunday last October, just as it had wrapped filming.
While Hersel remains interested in what the crew filmed on High Knob, he said wildlife biologists are convinced Bigfoot does not exist in the area.
“They would have been discovered by now,” he said. “Think about what it takes to have a viable population of a creature of that size. You would have to have a family or a small population — they would have had to been sighted.”
Still, the “Finding Bigfoot” team interviewed several local residents from Southwest Virginia and northern Tennessee who swear they’ve had a Bigfoot encounter, leaving Hammel to believe that “Virginia isn’t just for lovers, it is also for squatches.”
The episode, “Virginia is for Bigfoot Lovers,” airs at 10 p.m. on Feb. 12 on Animal Planet.