In October 2022, Mr. J and I found ourselves traveling west from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to the golf capital of Tennessee: Crossville. However, there was more than golf on our agenda. We were also going for the 2nd annual Upper Cumberland Bigfoot Festival. Despite having struck out early on a Thursday morning, we found ourselves perpetually stuck in the frustrating time-suck that is Interstate 40. From road construction to accidents, we crept along toward our destination at a frustrating pace. After a tense and winding stretch through the 18-wheeler-plagued mountain pass section, we emerged into the beautiful land of East Tennessee, only to see miles of log-jammed traffic waiting on us. Despite our GPS's constant warning of additional time, it was time to hit the back roads.

What greeted us upon our Interstate departure was a serene and beautiful drive through the East Tennessee wilderness for the rest of our journey. There were small towns straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting if the perimeter of Mr. Rockwell’s masterpieces included pitstops for moonshine of course. There was also another geographic feature that became prominent out our windows: the hills were laced with a network of railways, including breathtaking elevated sections that traversed treacherous gorges, raging rivers, and more.

A bigfoot trail system

With Bigfoot fresh on our minds, we couldn’t help but wonder if a creature of such elusive nature might find these remote stretches of walkable track useful. After all, the wildlife benefit of connecting tracts of land that have been bisected by large highways is well-known. In Agoura Hills, California, for example, the world’s largest wildlife crossing is being constructed to ensure that mountain lions and other creatures of the Santa Monica Mountains can safely cross the 101 Freeway. It is hoped that animals north of the freeway will make their way down to mix up the gene pool. Such a historic crossing might indeed open the path for reclusive creatures from the north.

Some 600 miles north of the Santa Monica Mountains lies the southern tip of the Bigfoot Scenic Byway. Here in Willow Creek, trekkers are greeted by Bigfoot paraphernalia everywhere they look. The fourth stop along the trail is the Bluff Creek Historic Trail, where, in 1967, the infamous Patterson-Gimlin tape was shot. This 16-mm camera film is the benchmark of Bigfoot videos. It shows a large hairy female bipedal creature loping across the Bluff Creek wilderness. Turning its head back to the camera is one of the most memorable shots in all of Bigfoot lore.

Alternate paths

Smoky Mountain National Park, near Crossville, had 14.1 million visitors in 2021. Such a large volume of foot traffic might prove unattractive to a shy creature like Bigfoot. With humans encroaching in ever-growing numbers on the wilderness, it seems likely that wild creatures wishing to avoid human contact might find less conspicuous routes of travel to get where they need to go. The United States is crisscrossed by 140,000 active railroads. However, there are also an unknown number of abandoned railroad tracks dotting the landscape. It is estimated that some 60,000 miles are covered in abandoned tracks, with many of these connected to Bigfoot hotspots such as abandoned mines.

The Upper Cumberland Bigfoot Festival in Crossville, Tennessee, celebrates the legendary hominid that is said to roam about East Tennessee. Bearing witness to the impressive stretches of railroad tracks throughout this area, many of which appear to be abandoned, I do not doubt that if Bigfoot is out there, it can access untold mazes of alternate paths along these tracks. This would certainly explain why encounters are so rare. Imagine Bigfoots traveling in the middle of the night along a labyrinth of abandoned railways that enter an untold number of mines and tunnels that riddle the countryside.

Protecting wildlife

Whether one believes in Bigfoot or not, we can all agree that our wildlife needs protection. The natural habitat of all creatures is shrinking. Our roads and development are eradicating the last vestiges of natural areas. Landbridge projects such as the one in Agoura Hills are finally applying common sense solutions to the plight of animals whose territory has been laced with deadly highways. Let’s make sure all creatures continue to have navigable spaces to thrive and travel. And if you find yourself hiking an abandoned railway in the middle of the night, you might just have the encounter of a lifetime.