As part of a plan to attract visitors to Charlotte County and its parks, the county’s parks and natural resources divisions are thinking a bit outside the box by hosting a hunt for a mythical creature that has become a part of Florida folklore over the years.
Jason Thompson, a scientist with the county’s land management team, said the Florida Skunk Ape is purportedly a cousin to Bigfoot, or sasquatch.
The campaign, where visitors at the county’s more than 60 parks will be on the lookout for pink Skunk Ape paw prints on trees, began Oct. 1 and continues throughout the month. Thompson and his creative team designed the event to encourage local and visiting families, as well as fans of the mythical creature to explore the parks.
On its Facebook and Instagram accounts, the county issued a wanted alert stating, “The Land Management team is actively searching in West County parks for the Florida Skunk Ape, who is wanted in connection to vandalism that took place at a Charlotte County property.”
Although scientists don’t acknowledge the existence of the Skunk Ape, there are Floridians who believe the creature inhabits swamps and forests in Southwest Florida and other parts of the state.
Dave Shealy presides over the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters and museum, which has become a tourist attraction in Ochopee in the Everglades, where Shealy’s family has lived for more than a century.
Shealy traveled to Punta Gorda in June 2022 for a one-day Skunk Ape convention and was joined by dozens who listened as eyewitnesses regaled the audience with their sightings of the creature. Shealy has been featured on TV documentaries and claims he saw a Skunk Ape when he was a child in 1974. Exhibitors at the convention sold an array of Skunk Ape bumper stickers, books, statutes, magnets and memorabilia.
Thompson hopes true believers in the creature won’t be offended by the hunt, as it’s meant to be a fun experience for children and their families and to introduce the public to Charlotte County parks. However, not all 60 parks will be involved in the event.
The skunk ape hunt is hosted in West County at Ann & Chuck Dever Regional Park, Oyster Creek Environmental Park, Cedar Point Environmental Park, Amberjack Environmental Park and Bill Coy Environmental Preserve. It also is at Tippecanoe Environmental Park, Tippecanoe II, Peace River Environmental Preserve and Charlotte Flatwoods Environmental Park as well as Prairie Creek Preserve and Shell Creek Preserve.
The pink paws visitors will be in search of will be a nod to October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.