By GUY D’ASTOLFO | email@example.com
There are two kinds of people in this neck of the woods: Those who believe in Bigfoot, and those who just haven’t seen him yet.
Or at least that’s how the organizers of the region’s newest festival see it.
The inaugural Genoskwa Festival — or, as many are calling it, the Bigfoot Festival — will take place Friday (the 13th!) and Saturday in downtown Leetonia. It’s the region’s newest festival, and it might be its most unique.
Main Street will be lined with food vendors, crafts, pony rides, a bounce house and other trappings of a typical street festival, and there will be musical entertainment and games.
But there also will be a Bigfoot howling contest and a series of presentations by some of the most- respected names in Bigfoot research.
Why is it in Leetonia? Because the village sits in the middle of an area where there are a lot of Bigfoot sightings, that includes Columbiana, Stark and Carroll counties.
The idea came about when researchers from the Canton-based Genoskwa Project, which was founded by Paul Hayes and Dan Baker, put on a Bigfoot presentation at Leetonia Library in the summer of 2012.
“More than 250 people showed up,” said Hayes. “We couldn’t fit them all in.”
Town officials saw the potential, and after some brainstorming with the Genoskwa Project folks, the festival was born.
Genoskwa (pronounced jenn-OSS-kwa) is a regional Native American term for the bipedal apelike creatures.
The word, said Hayes, translates as “stone giant.” The creatures have a smooth, shiny and hardened coat, resembling stone, and caused by hardened mud.
“The Genoskwa is said to be a taller and more aggressive type of Bigfoot,” said Hayes. “Native Americans believed they would carry off humans.”
Columbiana County in particular has a lot of Genoskwa sightings, said Hayes. “There have been sightings along state Route 45 south of Salem and at Beaver Creek State Park,” he said.
All funds raised from the Genoskwa Festival will benefit the Leetonia Beehive Coke Ovens, a primitive iron-making facility from the 19th century, and a historic site, that is in need of repairs. The Leetonia Coke Oven Commission is staging the festival.
The festival will run from 3 to 10 p.m. Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday.
A highlight will be a presentation by renowned Bigfoot researcher Jeffrey Meldrum at Leetonia High School. Meldrum is a professor of anthropology at Idaho State University. “He is well-known in the Bigfoot community,” said Hayes.
Meldrum will speak at 1 p.m. Saturday at the high school. Admission is $5. His presentation will include an analysis of footprints.
“We expect more than a thousand people will show up to hear Dr. Meldrum speak,” said Karen Yoho, a festival organizer and a member of the Coke Ovens Commission.
Also scheduled to speak later Saturday afternoon at Leetonia Library are Bigfoot experts Joedy Cook (3:30 p.m.), who has appeared on the Discovery Channel; Mark Dewerth of Ohio Bigfoot Conference (5 p.m.); and William Allen Barnes (6 p.m.).
Barnes is the founder of the Falcon Project, whose goal is to use infrared cameras on blimps to capture photographic proof of the creature. He will bring evidence displays that have never been shown in public before.
On Sunday, true Bigfoot believers and the curious will have an opportunity to attend a more personal brunch with Meldrum at 10:30 a.m. in the Charles Nelson Schmick House. Tickets are $40 and must be purchased in advance.
The brunch is limited to 50 people, and some tickets remain, said Yoho. If interested, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The festival will include a Bigfoot-inspired 5 kilometer race at 8 p.m. Friday. “The theme is ‘Are you chasing Bigfoot, or is he chasing you?’,” said Yoho.
Registration begins at 7 p.m. and runners can sign up in advance at active.com. More than 70 already have signed up.