More than a myth: Bigfoot is building community and bringing business to this Washington mountain town
Thomas Sewid offers a crash course in supernatural beach safety. The subject is Pokwus, a small green cryptid (a creature whose existence has not been scientifically proven) found on rural beaches. As his wife Peggy dances around the room in mossy attire, wearing a striped mask with a glowing teal nose, he points out that the Pokwus represent temptation and one should never accept what they offer, be it gifts. shellfish or cigarettes. It wasn’t exactly what I expected to hear from Bigfoot, but, as I was learning quickly, the cryptid is versatile.
While many Bigfoot-themed gatherings fill entire hotels, the Marblemount Sasquatch Conference takes place in the City of Washington Community Club, a friendly space with a large main hall and a tree-lined meadow behind. The festival started in 2019, but according to its founder, Syvella Kalil, the idea had been around for years.
“People here in this town were talking to me, saying, ‘They [Sasquatches] are here,” she said.
Considering the terrain, this is not surprising. Marblemount is in the Cascade Mountains, 2 hours northeast of Seattle. Dense forests of towering pines sweep toward rugged mountains, while cold, clear rivers, tinged green by glacial runoff, flow nearby. It’s the home of the famously rugged North Cascades National Park, and the towns scattered in its shadow tend to be small and outward-facing. In other words, it’s a great place for Bigfoot.
A Woo event
The Marblemount conference is considered more of a “Woo” event. In the Bigfoot community, the term refers to the belief that Sasquatches are metaphysical beings. Although their physical descriptions of Bigfoot often match those of “apers” (another subset that believe cryptids are variants of prehistoric apes), Woo proponents believe the creatures also possess supernatural traits, such as shapeshifting and telepathy. Even within this small subset, there are distinct variations in personal experiences – and whether or not the stories are fully believed, they offer some fascinating insights to consider.
It’s interesting to see a room full of Sasquatch enthusiasts because the subculture is, by its very nature, somewhat isolated. After all, Bigfoot isn’t just hanging out in the Walmart parking lot. Here, people who spend most of the year physically or ideologically isolated (or both) can finally find each other. Camouflage-clad locals hold binders of photos detailing their own encounters, a pair of sisters have seen enough Bigfoot performances to want to know more, and a young man says he saw a mysterious figure on Halloween night. There are soldiers from an army base a few hours away, and several groups that seem to have just arrived from Seattle. And all listen carefully to Sewid.
Growing up, Sewid says he was called “Tommy 10,000 Questions”, because of his boundless curiosity, especially about Sasquatch. As a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe of British Columbia, Sewid has always had a deep cultural connection to the Sasquatches in all their forms, from the Pokwus to the taller, hairier and more familiar figures of folklore. They have been depicted in art and stories for millennia, even occupying places of honor on ceremonial totem poles and family coats of arms.
As an adult, Sewid spent many years living in the Canadian bush, where he says he encountered Sasquatches of all shapes and sizes. “You see things, hear things, smell things, and you always feel like you’re being watched,” he says. “If you stay in the bush long enough, you’ll see Sasquatch.”
Dr. J. Robert Alley’s first encounter with Bigfoot was on a camping trip to Vancouver Island in 1975. He spent years investigating police reports of sightings of Sasquatch and interviewed individuals from over 45 native tribes about their own experiences with Sasquatch. While he talks about Sasquatch’s interdimensional abilities, he also focuses on physical artifacts. Holding a cast of a footprint, he emphasizes the width of the foot itself and the dexterity of the toes – more ape than human, but not quite neither.
Dr. Alley sees the conference as an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences. “People will share things with you that will help you complete the pieces of your puzzle,” he says.
For Judy Carroll, the Sasquatch relationship is that of a teacher and a student. She first became interested in Bigfoot Expeditions through various television programs, but quickly grew bored with the standard science-based approaches. “I left with the intention of having a meaningful relationship [with Sasqautch],” she says. Eventually, Carroll says she encountered an 8-foot-tall individual named Khombe, who could also manifest as energy orbs. After years of interacting with him, she is came to see the Sasquatches as spiritual teachers who reveal emotional and psychological truths to their students.
“It’s not about who they are, it’s about who you are,” she says.
Carroll was mentored in her process by Thom Cantrall, a longtime regular in the Pacific Northwest Sasquatch community. He first became interested in his teenage years and says he had frequent sightings of Sasquatch during his time working as a forest engineer on the Olympic Peninsula. He met his own Sasquatch teacher, whom he says he communicates with telepathically, in 2010. Cantrall has also written 12 books on Bigfoot. “It’s my job to be their scribe,” he said. “Every time they need to write something, I get a visit.”
A love of nature is a common thread among Sasquatch enthusiasts, and many see the characters as teachers of the environment. The four conference speakers have spent a lot of time in the backcountry, and the issues they say enrage the Sasquatches are the same ones facing humans: fracking, deforestation, and decline. salmon populations. There’s a feeling that we could all be more like Sasquatches, if only we were more willing to embrace our spiritual sides and dive into the wilderness while respecting it. As Carroll says, cryptids teach humans “respect for trees, nature, and each other.”
Bigfoot is also big business. Outside the community center, vendors sell wind chimes, stickers and t-shirts celebrating cryptids. Sasquatch circuits are also growing in popularity. Sewid’s company, Sasquatch Island, runs tours tailored to individual interests. While many take place in the wild, it also runs “urban tours,” exploring sightings near towns and homes. Having worked as a hunting and whale watching guide, Sewid sees the potential for Bigfoot tours to eventually fill a similar niche in the outdoor industry. “A lot of these people put their heart and soul into it,” he says.
Carroll is still working on expanding his company, Heart of the Hoh, which will offer Sasquatch Expeditions with a spiritual component. Long before she started looking for Bigfoot, she fell in love with the Hoh Rainforest, known for its ethereal landscapes of mosses and ferns. While Sasquatch’s sightings would be a focus, she also plans to focus on her clients’ personal growth as they explore the forest.
“I want to help people reconnect with themselves and with nature,” she says.
For Kalil, it was always about fostering community, both the temporary one of the conference and the more physical one of the city itself. Like so many of its neighbours, Marblemount’s tourism industry is largely seasonal, and it hopes events like these will attract more visitors throughout the year, while simultaneously promoting cryptids. For her, it’s not just about making money: “It’s about spreading the word,” she says.