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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘You can’t tell me what’s up in these hills’: Skeptics and believers gather in Metaline Falls for annual Bigfoot Festival

If Bigfoot wanted to reveal himself, Metaline Falls, Washington, this past weekend would have been a fitting place to debut.

While the 300 locals are divided on their belief of the perpetually elusive species’ existence, believers from across the nation flood the cloudy town 12 miles from the Canada border yearly for the annual Bigfoot Festival.

In its fourth year, the festival boasted more than 200 vendors and five presenters regarded as “experts” in studying sasquatch, some devoting their lives to researching and tracking the species that they said lives in wooded areas across the nation.

Event organizer Kelly Flanagan, president of the Pend Oreille regional tourism alliance, is a squatch skeptic 363 days of the year, but for festival weekend, she’s the species’ number one fan.

“I’m a believer for three more hours,” Flanagan said, about three hours before the festival closed for the weekend. “I don’t disbelieve, because you can’t tell me what’s at the bottom of the ocean. You can’t tell me what’s up in these hills, because we’ve never explored,” she gestured to the tree-lined ridges towering over Metaline Falls.

The festival is all the tourism alliance hosts each year – because it’s all they need to host, Flanagan said. Last year, more than 9,000 people attended to shop at booths, patronize businesses lining the festival’s streets, and book solid the several surrounding campgrounds, RV parks and hotels.

Sherry McMahon, a cook at Fifth Avenue Bar and Grill, is a believer in both the cryptid and the business it brings to her workplace. She estimates the bar sees over double its typical business on festival weekend.

Nearby business Farmhouse Cafe was full of patrons on Sunday. They closed early Saturday, Flanagan said, because employees grew tired in the rush.

The business is welcome in the town still struggling post-pandemic, locals said. Canadian money used to line the pockets of Metaline Falls, but lingering COVID-era restrictions shutter the border at 4 p.m., reducing the time (and money) Canadians can spend in the forest town.

“Canadians can’t get in past 4 p.m., so that screws everything up,” Flanagan said. “A lot of our business before was Canadian.”

In the nearby NuVu Showhouse theater, Bigfoot truthers gave presentations on their research and encounters.

One of the speakers was Scot Violette, founder of Squatch America, a business that receives and follows reports of Bigfoot sightings around the country. He travels the continent with his wife, Hannah, in search of the cryptid in his cherry-red pickup that’s loaded with tracking gear and plastered with their Squatch America branding.

They follow leads of bigfoot sightings submitted on their website,, and document their travels on their YouTube channel by the same name. They receive about 120 reports of sightings each month, Violette said, and their conspicuous vehicle also helps in information gathering.

“I can’t go to a gas station without hearing a Bigfoot report from somebody,” he said. “I will go to a grocery store, we’ll go in shopping and we’ll come back out, there’ll be three people standing by my truck ready to tell me their bigfoot story, and we document all of them.”

Revenue from their YouTube channel and subscriptions from Patreon, another video-sharing platform, fund their search, with a network of researchers around the country. Violette has had one sighting of a sasquatch on his travels, a juvenile possibly accompanied by an adult he said he saw in 2018 in the mountains outside of Baker City, Oregon.

Photos of large footprints and a blurry shadow surrounded by brush is all he has to show for the encounter. Since, he has collected other evidence of bigfoots, he said, in the form of nests, tracks and 500-pound boulders placed intentionally on top of fallen trees he said only a squatch could move.

Violette grew interested in cryptid hunting while studying petroglyphs and pictographs around the United States. He saw similar symbols in millennia-old rock etchings in several states, a broad-shouldered humanoid representing what he believes to be a sasquatch.

“Our job is to investigate the unexplained, not to explain the uninvestigated,” Violette said. “So we try to keep a very scientific-based research into what we’re doing, even though it’s a very fantastic subject.”

He uses a cultural anthropological lens in his search – critical to his studies is the concept of reflexivity, that cultures should be considered in their own context, not in the context of the researcher’s culture.

“You got to be careful not to place your culture on them or compare your way of life to their way of life, not to think that Bigfoot has to make fire because you have to make fire,” Violette said to a rapt audience of roughly 30.

He camps out with teams of other researchers with the hopes of catching another glimpse of the elusive creature. He’s seen proof enough to believe in the existence of sasquatch, a creature he believes is an “older version” of humans that “hasn’t gone extinct yet.” Though convinced himself, he wishes “mainstream science” would accept sasquatches’ existence.

As “the gangsterest nerd you’ll ever know,” Jesus Payan Jr. doesn’t need anyone else’s validation for what he believes is undeniable.

“I’m beyond that now,” he said to his 40-person audience. “I’m trying to research the social nature of this being.”

Payan also spoke at the festival. The “Breaking Bad” actor says he’s experienced supernatural encounters since childhood, having grown up in a 200-year-old haunted house in England, where his dad was stationed in the Air Force.

UFO sightings and ghosts have always been present in his life, so he’s never second-guessed the existence of the paranormal.

“I realized it wasn’t normal when I was 12 years old, and I asked my friends, ‘Did you see the UFO last night?’ And they’d look at me funny; they’d be like, ‘You’re trippin’, dude,’” he said.

Now living in New Mexico, Payan says he regularly crosses paths with juvenile sasquatch in a wooded area he’s frequented for over 15 years. Often, he doesn’t realize he was near a sasquatch until posting photographs and videos in the woods on his YouTube channel, “Breaking Bigfoot,” when a commenter will alert him of a shadowy figure in the distance, he said.

After using apps to zoom in, enhance, saturate, filter, sharpen the image and add a red circle, what’s left is what he said is proof of juvenile sasquatches clinging to the trees.

He leaves them 50-pound bunches of apples and bananas, he said, for them to “share with their clan.” For that, “they’ve grown comfortable with me,” he said.

Squatches are quick and smart, he said, often evading photographs when he does catch a glimpse.

“By the time you pinpoint them, like, ‘Oh, there you are,’ they already duck or hide or whatever they do,” Payan said.

He’s often challenged by skeptics, citing a lack of physical evidence or misunderstandings of the cryptid, such as incorrectly thinking there’s only one that lurks around the whole nation, he said.

“A lot of them really believe that if they don’t think it’s real, it doesn’t exist,” he said. “Even though I have video and pictures, and all that stuff, they refuse to accept that as evidence.”

He attributed the denial to cognitive dissonance from nonbelievers, who find comfort in shutting out the unexplainable in favor of simpler narratives perpetuated by the status quo, he said. He almost feels pity for the nonbelievers.

“There are a lot of people scared for it to be real, because it doesn’t fit into their reality,” Payan said. “If that’s real, then there’s so much more that they don’t know yet.”

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to correct the name of NuVu Showhouse.