Illustration by Audra Anderson
Jeffrey Meldrum never paid much attention to Bigfoot folklore, that is, until the Idaho State University anatomy and anthropology professor studied more than 35 tracks of an unrecognizable creature in 1996. Meldrum has since analyzed hundreds of footprints that he hypothesizes come from the ape-like creature.
Meldrum can be assured Bigfoot will remain safe in Whatcom County, thanks to the county’s continuing status as a Bigfoot Protection and Refuge Area.
Al Magnuson, a representative of the Mt. Baker Foothills Chamber of Commerce, proposed a Bigfoot hunting ban to Whatcom County Council on June 11, 1991. Magnusson said in a 1991 Bellingham Herald article that he presented the council with 260 signatures of residents concerned with the safety of both Bigfoot and participants of the Bigfoot costume contest at the first annual Bigfoot at Baker festival, which took place two weeks after his proposal.
“We all kind of laughed about it behind the scenes,” Ramona Stumpf, a former council clerk of the Whatcom County Council, said. “It was kind of nice to be able to come together around something that was light-hearted and fun.”
Whatcom County was declared a Sasquatch Protection and Refuge Area a year later on June 9, 1992 when the resolution passed. The resolution stated Bigfoot may exist and if it does, the creature is inadequately protected.
Council member Barbara Brenner was serving her first term on county council when she voted on the resolution that passed unanimously. Resolutions have no legal standing and usually show the council what topics are important to the public, Brenner said.
“I think [the council] did it as a gesture of support and goodwill toward people of the foothills and all the creativity they put into the event,” Stumpf said.
Whatcom County wasn’t the first county in the state to pass legislation protecting Sasquatch. Skamania County, which encompasses much of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwest Washington, passed an ordinance on April 1, 1969, citing Bigfoot hunting an illegal offense. The fine could result in up to $10,000 or five years in jail, according to the ordinance.
Protecting this creature is important to Meldrum. He researches human locomotion, the study of how people walk on two legs, to examine hundreds of footprint evidence from what he hypothesizes is Bigfoot.
“I’m convinced by the evidence that there is, at the very least, a justified rationale for investigating this question,” Meldrum said. “Even if at present we come up short of definitive, conclusive proof that such creatures exist.”
There are a few working hypotheses on what Bigfoot could be, Meldrum said. Near the end of the Ice Age during the Pleistocene Epoch, many large animals known as megafauna roamed earth. One in particular was a 9-foot primate that lived in east Asia, Gigantopithecus blacki.
Meldrum said missing scientific evidence leaves questions about the primate, including its mobility on two legs, but the timing and location opens the possibility of it crossing the Bering Land Bridge to North America.
Bigfoot protections can raise awareness that such creatures might exist and should be treated with respect like any other form of wildlife, Meldrum said.
“The sentiment is great even if it’s done with a little bit of levity,” Meldrum said.
When Cullen Carter, a third-year recreation major, isn’t busy with school, he’s hunting down the legendary Bigfoot. Springtime means he never forgets his camera or apples, which he scatters along the trails in hopes of luring the ape-like creature.
“It would be cool to see it but I also don’t want to die at the hands of Bigfoot,” Carter said.
Carter said his first expedition was in eastern Washington in 2017, after many years of watching the Animal Planet show “Finding Bigfoot.” Although he hasn’t found any evidence of Bigfoot yet, Carter said he is planning more expeditions and agrees with Whatcom County’s Bigfoot protection.
“If Bigfoot is real, then at least there is one place they are safe,” Carter said.