Yellowstone National Park is home to some of the most photographed wildlife in the world, with tourists on constant lookout for everything from grizzly bears and gray wolves to pelicans and pikas. But this summer, a reality show crew will be adding at least one new species to their must-see list: Bigfoot.
As unlikely as it might sound, a four-person production crew is scheduled to spend up to 10 weeks in Yellowstone from mid-June through August taping segments for “Yellowstone Bigfoot Hunt,” a new reality TV show set to debut in October on the Adventure Channel.
The decision by park officials to permit the production is drawing criticism from some environmental groups, while others are praising the project as a great way to draw attention to the park while boosting local gateway economies.
Common sense dictates that finding a previously undiscovered primate in the high country of Yellowstone is about as likely as spotting a unicorn. But park officials say the program has met all necessary requirements for receiving a commercial photography permit.
“So long as the production doesn’t interfere with normal park operations and abides by the terms and conditions of the permit, they will be allowed to tape segments about Bigfoot—or any other-size-footed animals they might find here,” said Yellowstone spokesman Stan Thatch.
Permit guidelines for the park state that “documentaries filmed specifically for sale to a news station or educational channel are considered a commercial venture and require a permit.”
Thatch said “Yellowstone Bigfoot Hunt” is considered a commercial film shoot, and under park rules, the production company must pay a $150 daily location fee based on its crew size.
Whenever the crew is operating in an area with thermal features or along roadsides or other sensitive areas, it will be required to have a Yellowstone staff member on site as a monitor, Thatch said. Such a requirement is a standard provision of the park’s permit guidelines. The crew must reimburse the National Park Service at the rate of $65 per hour for each staff monitor, he said.
Mocks conservation efforts
Sharm Dresden, wildlife policy specialist for the Friends of Yellowstone Alliance, said the quest for Sasquatch in the world’s first national park will make a mockery of efforts to protect and preserve actual threatened and endangered species, and would likely confuse visitors unfamiliar with Yellowstone’s unique ecosystem.
“I can’t imagine this is even being entertained,” Dresden said. “We already have far more compelling real wildlife that people can actually see every day in Yellowstone. Why are we promoting a literal Bigfoot hunt? Literally.”
Wyoming Rep. Teetrick Huddleton, a Republican from Cody, praised the decision to issue the permit, saying it will draw international attention to Yellowstone and its gateway towns. Huddleton, who co-chairs the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Committee on Film, Television, Rodeos and Parades, said he had met with the “Yellowstone Bigfoot Hunt” crew, and is convinced they will be careful and conscientious.
“These people are trained Hollywood professionals,” Huddleton said. “I have every confidence that they’ll treat Yellowstone with respect. The park has to be open to many uses, and this is a legitimate deal here. I see no reason to exclude them.”
Cable TV already has two Bigfoot-themed programs, with “Finding Bigfoot” recently completing its fourth season on Animal Planet and “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty” premiering earlier this year on Spike. The success of those shows may explain why the fledgling Adventure Channel is looking to make a splash by setting a reality show about Bigfoot in Yellowstone.
“You tend to get a lot of copycat productions whenever a reality show concept pops,” said Don Weaver, president of Dream Factory Productions in North Hollywood, Calif. Weaver’s company is not affiliated with “Yellowstone Bigfoot Hunt,” and efforts to reach representatives from the show were not successful.
“The idea these days is that you have to come up with an outrageous concept if you expect to cut through the clutter of all the shows lined up on basic cable,” Weaver said. “It might work better, actually, as a Bigfoot dating show.”
No reported sightings
Thatch said he was not aware of any recent Bigfoot encounters in or around the park, and that the Park Service does not formally track unexplained animal sightings.
“We do track things like reports of wolves with sarcoptic mange, for instance. Our biologists want to stay on top of that. But there is no cryptozoologist on staff at Yellowstone, so we don’t keep up with Yetis, dragons or mermaids,” he said.
Dresden said she was concerned that the TV crew or park visitors might chase after bears or other wildlife in an effort to capture Sasquatch on camera, and that it was an inappropriate production to be allowed in the park.
“This flies in the face of the educational and interpretive mission the Park Service is supposed to be carrying out. We wouldn’t allow a crew to film a ‘Leprechaun Search’ show at the Lincoln Memorial, so why is this being permitted?” she said.
Huddleton said the program would be a much-needed shot in the arm for gateway towns like Cody, and that “the jury is still out on whether Bigfeets exist.”
“Can you imagine the tourist traffic we’d see if they even caught a glimpse of one of those things? Where’s the harm?” he said. “I’ve never met anyone who’s actually seen a wolverine in Yellowstone either. Let them film their program.”
Thatch said no final decision has been made on whether Park Service staff would appear on camera as part of “Yellowstone Bigfoot Hunt.”
“To the extent that something like that might happen, I would imagine that it would be only a brief interview to refute the notion that Bigfoot exists, and to rule out that he—or she—might be found somewhere in the park,” he said.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].