Portage County: Home of the Bigfoot?

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Portage County’s never exactly been a hotspot for tourism. The county seat, Ravenna, was once where the Army made World War II’s best TNT. To this day the plant’s contaminated, but still standing, wisely, while the feds try to clean it up. But the Bigfoot Field Research Organization says Portage County is first in Ohio with 13 reported encounters with the big, hairy fella. Neighboring Geauga County has seven, including an alleged sighting last year by a family still looking for their cat. That makes the area prime hunting space for the Ohio Bigfoot Organization, whose members venture deep into the forests about twice a month to investigate sightings, noises, footprints, pretty much anything to feed the chase. Most accounts, say founder Paul Mitchell, come from jokesters and whack jobs. They tell him they’re living Harry and the Hendersons, or that they shot one and won’t give up the body until enough money’s wired to their Swiss bank account. “A big part of the job is just weeding that out,” he says. But a tiny percentage yields the base of squishy evidence which sustains the hunt. Mitchell himself gushes over tales of huge beds of matted brush, and farmers catching eight-foot apelike beings plundering their apple trees. “It may not be too long now,” he says. He became interested in Bigfoot two years ago. On a camping trip in Guernsey County, he was jerked awake before sunrise by a deep, unfamiliar howling sound. He followed it for several minutes until it died out. “It was so loud,” he says. “There was no way it could have been a man.” He discovered similar recordings on the BFRO website, and has been on the trail ever since. “Talk to the park rangers,” says Mitchell. “They’ll tell you they’re there.” -- Jason Nedley

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