Briana Heaney Published

Bigfoot Festival Draws Thousands To Sutton

woman in a t-shirt about bigfoot
Visitors from all over the country visited the bigfoot festival this weekend in Sutton, West Virginia
Briana Heaney/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This past weekend the town of Sutton, population 840, hosted about 20,000 people for its annual Bigfoot Festival. It was a celebration of a mythical giant primate with large feet.

Some of those visitors are looking for the creature and some who just love the idea of it. 

Russ Jones starts most mornings off deep in the woods with his dogs, and a walking stick with a GoPro attached, looking for a large hairy mythical creature, known in these parts as bigfoot. 

“I like walking to the place where we are right now that no one’s ever really around,” Jones said. “You’re very remote. But there’s creeks that always have water in them. And walking on these old logging roads. I’m able to look around and see whether or not I can find tracks or hear something that might be indicative that something’s around.”

A chiropractor by day, Jones spends most of his free time out in the woods. He grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, living, in part, off the land. 

“We hunted ginseng, we had rabbit dogs, we had coonhounds. We are all trapped. We were in the woods all the time. ”

Today, he is looking for bigfoot. He’s written books, hosted podcasts, and traveled to give lectures. The scientific consensus is that bigfoot does not exist. Jones wants to change that. 

He says he has had multiple encounters with what he believes was bigfoot, his first sighting was when he was 13 on a fishing trip. 

“It was maybe 40 yards from me, 35 yards,” Jones said. “I mean, not very far, you know, we’re talking about from here to that pine tree sticking out down there. The woods started shaking. And now I would know that this is a very typical bigfoot behavior of shaking trees, shaking bushes.”

Stories like the ones Jones tells are part of Appalachian folklore. And all the stories in Sutton this past weekend were about bigfoot.

Laurel Petolicchio owns and runs the local country store that doubles as a bigfoot museum. She said she has never seen bigfoot, but she’s heard a lot of stories. 

“I’ll have these big mountain men come into my counter, you know, my little country store,” she said. “And the one guy, I mean, slammed his hand down on the table. I mean, on my counter, and he’s like, ‘You don’t believe this crap, do you?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I kind of do’. And he’s like, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s the stories I hear.’ And it’s just, there’s so many of them. And then he leaned forward, he’s like, ‘Okay, can I tell you mine?’”

Stories like this may be inspired by the fact that nearly 80 percent of West Virginia is forested, leaving a lot of room for the imagination.  

A few years ago, Petolicchio planned the first bigfoot festival. Hundreds of people showed up, the next year thousands. And it grew to the massive event of this weekend

There’s plenty of music here, and clogging. There’s regional food like pepperoni rolls amidst bigfoot lectures and what Petolicchio said is a space for bigfooters to share their sightings. 

“So we’ll have a mic and let them just tell their stories around the campfire. And everybody can just listen,” she said. 

About half the people West Virginia Public Broadcasting spoke to were not sure if bigfoot exists but think it’s possible. Then there are those who are certain bigfoot is a myth.  

One of those is Dee White. He was dressed up in a bigfoot costume and riding a motorized skateboard. He travels around selling bigfoot merchandise, like stained glass, T-shirts, and wood engravings of Elvis Pressley and Donald Trump in bigfoot suits. 

“Bigfoot. Yeah, bigfoot was in Forbes magazine as a billion-dollar business,” he said. “Look at all these people making money off of bigfoot.”

But there’s also true bigfoot believers like Ashton Smith and Hyden Brown who traveled from Washington, D.C. 

I think that it’s more fun to believe in something,” Smith said. “She sent me a link to the bigfoot festival weekend. I was like, say no more.” 

For them it’s fun and magical to believe there is still something out there to be discovered. They say you can’t prove that bigfoot doesn’t exist and could still be discovered one day. Until that happens, the bigfoot folklore will keep this festival going.