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Read This: What attending a Bigfoot believers convention is like

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“Have you ever had an experience?” This, Flathead Beacon reporter Molly Priddy learned, is how believers in Bigfoot, the mythical creature who has inspired numerous films and television specials, habitually greet each other. This year, Hot Springs, Montana played host to the inaugural Big Sky Bigfoot Conference, and Priddy was there to file a thorough and thoroughly entertaining report. What Priddy learned is that a Bigfoot or Sasquatch (the terms are interchangeable) convention is a lot like any convention: The schedule is dominated by the appearances of guest speakers, and there is plentiful merchandise for sale. Like any other corner of popular culture, “Squatching” has its own particular set of stars, some of whom were on hand to lend credence to the event. One such celeb is Ed Brown, podcaster and YouTube vlogger, who has actually been featured on basic cable documentaries on the subject.

Mostly, Priddy finds, the Big Sky Bigfoot Conference is an opportunity for Bigfoot believers to meet each other and talk about their unusual passion in an atmosphere free of mockery and judgment. Veterans of the Sasquatch scene are all too familiar with the skepticism of the general public when it comes to this topic. Here, at last, is place where they can openly share stories and theories about Bigfoot. As conference organizer Sarah Lederle puts it, “The community is so welcoming and wonderful as a whole. We want a place for people to come and know they’re not alone. This is a no-shame zone.” Lederle did her job so well, in fact, that even Priddy finds herself succumbing to the spirit of the event. When a speaker makes an illogical statement, Priddy resists the urge to correct him, noting:

Going against my regular journalism instincts, though, I decide to write off any inconsistencies or scientific confusion that on any other assignment might give me pause. The culture of Bigfoot is one based on belief over evidence to the contrary, in trusting one’s gut and senses, knowing that you saw what you saw, and no one can tell you differently.