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Media Article # 296

Friday, May 10, 2002

Teacher on Bigfoot's trail sees science issue in mystery

By Bryan Denson
The Oregonian

At first blush, nothing is amiss in Thom Powell's eighth-grade science classroom.

Room 101 at Robert Gray Middle School features lab tables and worn linoleum, a model solar system hanging from the ceiling and the obligatory photo of Carl Sagan.

But then there is the matter of the Bigfoot dung.

Powell, a teacher at the Southwest Portland school, stores two large clumps -- he suspects they were the work of Bigfoot -- in his classroom cupboard. He also keeps a hair sample and plaster casts of, well, really big footprints that he thinks were made by the creature that indigenous people named sasquatch.

Powell, 45, is an unabashed devotee of the Bigfoot mystery. He spends many off-hours in the wilderness, planting cameras to capture images of the elusive beast.

On Saturday morning at 11:30, Powell will lecture on his progress to fellow devotees at the International Bigfoot Society's 10th Annual Conference at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Hillsboro. Ray Crowe, the society's director, expects 200 to 300 people to attend the two-day event.

Powell once was a skeptic.

Poking fun Fifteen years ago, he taught a unit about "pseudoscience," poking fun at Bigfoot and what he called flimsy evidence of the beasts' existence. But later he found that a few academics, including several anthropologists, argued that the creatures are real.

About that time, he moved to the Estacada area, where neighbors claimed to have sighted sasquatch. He evaluated their claims, and he collected reports and videos on the subject. In time, he began to view the subject as a legitimate field of scientific inquiry.

"I have looked at the evidence enough to see that there is no longer any doubt in my mind that the creatures do exist," Powell said. "The challenge to me . . . is to gather better evidence than has ever been gathered before. That is to say, to bring it out of the woods."

Powell recently ended two years of video surveillance near Chehalis, Wash., where huge footprints and meat missing from an outdoor refrigerator led him to suspect a family of the creatures was in the area. He set up heat- and motion-sensitive video cameras. On Dec. 30, 2001, something tripped the camera. The images, shadowy and inconclusive, seemed to show a broad human form, Powell said.

At himself At school, Powell pokes fun at himself, using Bigfoot to explore the basics of scientific investigation. He said he has been careful not to advocate for the existence of sasquatch.

Many academics scoff at Bigfoot as a myth, saying no hairy humanoids could exist without being captured or leaving a corpse for someone to find. But Powell thinks remote spots in Oregon could be home to such creatures. He's also aware that ridicule is bound to dog his search for them.

"I have nothing to lose," he said. "I don't have this scientific reputation that's fragile and at stake. . . . What am I? I'm a middle school science teacher. It's a valid scientific question for the classroom, so I will always use it as that."

The other day in Room 101, Powell asked students what they had learned about Bigfoot.

"It's one of those things that science may never figure out," said 13-year-old Jacob Webster-Hulbert. "But I believe. Because if you don't believe in stuff like that, life gets boring."

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