Want to see Bigfoot? You'll find him in Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park videos

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Park ranger Jeremy Sorensen dons a bigfoot costume at the Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park on Monday.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Park ranger Jeremy Sorensen dons a bigfoot costume at the Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park on Monday.

In an effort to make the outdoors accessible and enjoyable for all, park rangers at the Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park are using the famous cryptid Bigfoot to make entertaining, engaging videos for social media.

While legends of mythical, bipedal ape-men exist in various cultures around the nation and world, in the modern zeitgeist, Americans may be most familiar with Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, through the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film, which depicts the alleged creature walking through the wooded areas of California; the Animal Planet television show "Finding Bigfoot," which followed a team of investigators from the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization as they searched for the famously elusive monster; or the series of advertisements for Jack Link's jerky products, entitled "Messin' with Sasquatch."

For Hiwassee/Ocoee Park Manager Angelo Giansante and Park Ranger Jeremy Sorensen, who spoke with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in an interview Monday, the idea to make videos starring Bigfoot was inspired by a reoccurring question.

"I think every job, you get some questions; people will come in and ask standard questions," Giansante said. "We get, 'When's the last time you saw Bigfoot?' That happens often in our office."

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With the idea in mind and Sorensen already in possession of a Bigfoot costume from a previous attempt at making videos for the park's recycling initiative, the two rangers began filming, editing and posting videos last year. In a typical video, Giansante portrays himself while Sorensen portrays Bigfoot, also referred to as Steve the Sasquatch, with the rangers describing their on-camera relationship as two friends hanging out after work and comparing their relationship to that of Han Solo and Chewbacca from "Star Wars" or the title characters from the cartoon strip "Calvin and Hobbes."

In a video posted for Thanksgiving, which included a link to register for the park's Day After Thanksgiving hiking program, Giansante and Bigfoot dined on berries that turn out to be poisonous to Giansante. The video had about 280,000 views as of Tuesday afternoon.

In another posted for Christmas, Giansante and Bigfoot discussed Bigfoot's use of the children's playground, serving as a reminder to park visitors that the playground is meant for those aged 2-12. The video garnered over 120,000 views.

Giansante tested the water temperature of the river, contemplating a cold plunge in a video posted Friday, as Bigfoot donned a two-piece bathing suit, modeling for the camera.

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The rangers have seen a positive response to the videos, although they note it's not always easy to tell which videos will be most successful. Through social media, the rangers are able to reach people who may otherwise hesitate to get outdoors, they said. By combining entertainment with education, the rangers can help alleviate people's concerns, provide important safety information and demonstrate how to enjoy the park and the outdoors.

"We don't want to just take you on a journey," Giansante said. "We want to teach you how to take yourself on a journey. And that's our goal — to not just take you on a hike but to teach you how to hike so that you can continue to do that throughout your lifetime. Paddling is the same way."

For Sorensen, one of the rewards of the job is seeing people have their first outdoor experience, he said.

"I was doing a program once, ... and it was somebody's very first time hiking," Sorensen said. "And it's like, whoa, I'm honored you're coming out here, you're driving an hour or spending your time, your money, and you're coming out here just to go walk in the woods with a stranger. That's very rewarding ... because the therapy I get out here is the same sort of therapy I want other people to receive."

The Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park offers a variety of outdoor opportunities, including paddling, rafting, fishing, hiking and camping. Throughout the year, the park hosts different events such as its Day After Thanksgiving and First Day hike programs. At 6 p.m. March 30, the park will host John Hogfoss, a bushcraft survivalist who appeared on the show "Naked and Afraid," for an episode screening and discussion. Learn more about the event on the park's page at tnstateparks.com.

Even if people don't see Bigfoot at the park, there's still plenty of experiences to have, Giansante said.

"You may go your whole life without ever seeing Bigfoot in the woods, but that doesn't mean that you're not going to see amazing things that change your life," he said. "You may come out here a thousand times and never see an actual Bigfoot, but that does not mean that you're not going to come away a better person, you're not going to come away with a better appreciation for the creation that surrounds you and that you're not going to come away changed for the better."

To follow the adventures of Giansante and Sorensen, as bigfoot, visit the park's Facebook and Instagram pages.

Contact Sam Still at sstill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6579.

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