Tulsa Parks Worker Spreads Wilderness Safety Message With Social Distance Sasquatch Sightings

Newsweek's "Heroes of the Pandemic" series features everyday heroes showing service, sacrifice or kindness in the time of COVID-19.

At the end of March, sites tracking paranormal and cryptozoological phenomena picked up on multiple sightings of a mysterious hominid in the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area inside of the city limits of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"Flipping thru my photos from earlier this morning. I was trying to get a photo of a little bird I saw. Anyone know what the brown thing is?" read one Facebook caption, alongside a photo of a distinctly human shape hidden deep in the underbrush, covered in red-brown hair.

See posts, photos and more on Facebook.

While sightings of Sasquatch and similar mysterious apes aren't unheard of in the state, Bigfoot sightings near big cities are a rarity. But if there's any place in the metropolitan area where a giant, heretofore-unknown-to-science ape could hide from nearly a million people, it's the 600 acre Turkey Mountain wilderness.

"Bigfoot is kind of a big deal in southeast Oklahoma," Ryan Howell, activities and programming manager for the River Parks Authority, told Newsweek. "There's conventions and blogs and Bigfoot hunters and the whole shebang. But it's never made an appearance in Tulsa."

It still hasn't, as Howell can attest: he was the man behind the mask, sweating in the stuffy suit.

“I thought it was just a fun kind of joke, I didn’t realize how much attention it would get,” Howell said. “The craziest thing was all of the Bigfoot blogs. They picked up on it and ran with it. For a while there I was like, ‘Really? Is it that easy to fake Bigfoot sightings? We were just out there taking funny, blurry photos.” Katie Gillies

Howell and the River Parks Authority had purchased a Bigfoot outfit—the same used by Jack Link's beef jerky—for an introductory camping event to be held at Turkey Mountain, but it found a better use helping to spread measures taken by the city in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The truth behind the sightings became a little more clear on March 31, when the River Parks Authority put out a press release, officially dubbing the cryptid "Social Distance Sasquatch" and reminding park visitors that they could continue to enjoy outdoor spaces, but were required to practice physical distancing on the trails and other greenspace areas.

Howell captured many of the images that would establish the Social Distance Sasquatch legend with local photographer Nick Lindsey, who directed Howell toward poses similar to the arm-swinging gait of the Sasquatch seen in the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, shot in 1967 in Northern California. They shot at popular park locations for three hours in 80-degree weather—hot enough that Howell could only wear the mask for a few minutes at a time. Shooting realistically obscure Bigfoot photos turned out to be a substantial challenge.

Social Distance Sasquatch stands in front of the Tulsa skyline. The Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area where the crypt was spotted has more than twenty miles of trails and 600 acres of wilderness. ihearttulsa

"The photos were too good!" Howell said. "Even the phone camera was such high quality we were actually having to hold down the camera button and swipe our hand real fast. I couldn't move fast enough to make Sasquatch blurry."

After the photo shoot, Howell enlisted friends to post the photographs on their personal accounts, creating the initial sightings. Since then, Social Distance Sasquatch has become a local celebrity, appearing in local news broadcasts and on the popular Instagram account ihearttulsa.

Social Distance Sasquatch is still out there, somewhere, encouraging people to maintain six feet of separation, even in the great outdoors.

"We actually thought about putting a face mask on the Bigfoot mask, but at that point I don't know if I'd be able to breathe in the thing," Howell said.

Know a hero you want to nominate to be featured in our series? Drop us a line at heroes@newsweek.com.