Ask a conventional wildlife biologist about the existence of Sasquatch, you’ll get a flat “no,” probably a funny look. Still, no less a researcher than Dr. Jane Goodall told an interviewer that she was sure that they exist. And the question comes quite close to home when you consider the experiences of people like Dutchess County resident Gayle Beatty.
Beatty grew up loving the visits to her grandparents’ place in Rhinebeck, and when her family moved upriver from Westchester to Pine Plains in the late ’60s, she was one ecstatic 13-year-old. “I’d always been into the outdoors, hunting, fishing, riding,” she says. “So moving to the base of Stissing Mountain was heaven. We called ‘our’ mountain Little Stissing.”
She’d just gotten her tent up and was settling in for a solo campout one night when the weirdness hit. “It was just getting dark and I heard an owl call—really loud and sudden, a little different-sounding,” she says. “Seconds later, there was the most horrible scream. It just tore through me and vibrated in my chest.”
It was unlike anything she’d ever heard before. “I sat there in shock for a minute, just shaking, and decided I had to make a run for it,” she remembers. “I bolted straight down that 75 percent grade, slipping and sliding, and ran into the house crying, yelling that there was something out there and it was after me.”
Just don’t go up there anymore, she was told, but there was no keeping her indoors and in time Beatty took over Hook Line and Sinker Bait Shop on the Sawkill in Red Hook. But she never forgot the sound.
“Fast forward to 2011,” she says. “I’m in the other room and my husband’s watching Animal Planet’s ‘Finding Bigfoot,’ and there it was, the exact same sound, that I hadn’t heard since 1968,”
Beatty started Googling Bigfoot sightings in Dutchess County. “I found the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, and the first sighting listed was two women who glimpsed one crossing a road in 1985. And I thought to myself, ‘Oh my god, we have these?’ I started reaching out to my friends who had farms.”
Stories poured in: sightings, inexplicable tracks, atypical livestock deaths, hair, spoor. In 2012, Beatty started a Facebook page, Bigfoot Researchers of the Hudson Valley, where people who’ve encountered evidence of the ‘Squatch can share information, and added Bigfoot investigations to her outdoor repertoire. “We’ve gone all over—Dutchess, Putnam, Ulster, Columbia,” she says. “There’s no fee, and it’s totally confidential. People don’t normally want anyone to know they’ve asked. I’ve been on quite a few podcasts, local TV. But it’s not about the publicity, it’s about education. I’ve presented to schools and Scout troops. I wrote a kids’ book, A Young Researcher’s Guide to Bigfoot; parents wanted a way to explain them to their kids.”
Tales of cryptids—a species not scientifically confirmed—have persisted across cultures and centuries. Beatty finds it fun and fascinating to contemplate, and visitors to Hook Line and Sinker are invited to share in the adventure. “One side of the shop is Bigfoot and the other is bait,” she says. “We have over a dozen casts of footprints, tons of photos, books, Bigfoot memorabilia, some art and jewelry.”
Beatty doesn’t particularly care whether you believe in the Sasquatch or not. “Most of the absolute naysayers are trolls who’ve never spent a day in the woods,” she says. “The one thing every sane person knows is that we don’t know everything. We’re not saying we know something is a Bigfoot, just presenting evidence as we find it, make of it what you will.”
So what should you do if you’re out and about and come face to face with a hairy biped over seven feet tall? “Don’t make eye contact or try to smile, it could be misinterpreted as aggression,” says Beatty. “Lower your head, put your hands up, tell them you won’t hurt them, and back away without sudden moves or screaming…Oh, and see if you can get a picture.”