BIG FOOT DAYS, SMALL TOWN NIGHTS
Willow Creek Celebrates Local Folklore on Labor Day
Story by Daniel Gelman | Photos Courtesy of Bigfoot Books & Two Rivers Tribune
“The possibility of Big Foot being there is always fascinating.”
Although that’s not the reason why Steven Streufert, owner of Big Foot Books in Willow Creek moved there, it keeps him and visitors intrigued. But neither the town, nor the annual summer festival known as Big Foot Days revolve around the mysterious hairy creature.
Nevertheless, significant sightings in the 1950s and 60s put the place on the map so to speak, and created an aura of mystery and distinction that has stood the test of time. This includes the famous Roger Patterson film of a possible Big Foot sighting filmed in 1967 near Willow Creek.
Every Labor Day weekend, the unincorporated town of 1,700 convenes downtown for a celebration of local culture and folklore at Veterans Park. The theme of this year’s 53rd annual celebration is “Wild Wild West.” A parade with floats is the central activity reflecting the theme. Although there may be a few folks dressed as Big Foot; pie eating, dancing to local bands, and picnicking in the park will take center stage. The “Little Ms. And Mr. Big Foot Days” designation goes to two young folks who sell the most raffle tickets and contribute the most hours of community service.
The festival features the cuisine and artistry of local Native American tribes, including woodworking and jewelry displays at retail booths. The kids can enjoy inflatable slides and watching the horseshoe and logging competitions, firefighter muster, and pet contests. Many locals will also participate in the Big Ball Tournament, which is akin to softball. Don’t forget the oyster feed, lawn mower race, and disc golf tourney. An ice cream social with homemade pies, cakes, and cobblers happens at the China Flat Museum. It has perhaps the largest collection of Bigfoot curios in the world.
Coast Central Credit Union helps with the planning. According to Trina Cardoza, the bank’s Community Services Manager and a co-organizer of the event, “They believe strongly in community involvement.” Local businesses like Erick Ammon Inc., a Civil Engineering company in Anderson donate significantly to the cause.
Despite any rumors or impressions people may have about Willow Creek being a spooky backwoods hamlet, the vibe at Big Foot Days is indistinguishable from most wholesome summer celebrations in America’s Heartland. It is also primarily local, in terms of who attends and participates. However the summer tourist season does overlap with the Labor Day festivities. According to Cardoza, attendance last year was at least 1,000 and often exceeds that.
Marc Rowley owns COHO Cottages with his wife Londa. His family has been in the county since 1879 when they came from the East Coast for gold mining. They wound up settling in Willow Creek in 1909. Marc speaks of local history and migration to the area coming in “three waves.” The first was in the mid 19th century for the mining, the second was for the logging industry starting in the 1940s, and the third wave is drawn to the Marijuana growing industry.
“There is a fanatical believer element that comes to town, but I think most locals take that with a grain of salt.” The Rowleys opened their upscale cottage community in 2008 and draw visitors from around the world who discover them on the internet. “It’s always amazing to me. Our clientele is literally from everywhere,” he said. Prior to that, the family owned Big Foot Rafting Company for 29 years.
Steven Streufert came to graduate school at HSU in the 90s from Santa Barbara. After working at the Aquarian Bookshop in Eureka, he settled in Willow Creek and opened his own shop in 2005. “I used to think of it as a place to go swimming,” he recalled. “But it seemed like a good place to raise kids.”
Steven loves to camp at Bluff Creek where possible Big Foot tracks were found in the late 50s. He spends his time selling books, blogging, and engaging anyone who enjoys discussing the Big Foot topic. “It’s cute. I like to see the town come out,” he said of the annual festival. But he also wishes that there was more serious attention paid to the Big Foot theme. “I’ve tried to advocate for it for years.” Streufert has been a guest on Coast to Coast, a national radio program focusing on UFOs, conspiracy theories, and other mysteries.
According to all parties contacted for this story, Willow Creek is experiencing an influx of transients attracted to the grower industry. Marc Rowley categorizes one population as young educated folks looking to tap into a “Deadhead” vibe. “They want to be marginal and they’re raising begging to a spiritual level,” he commented. Rowley said the other portion is edgier “Occupy Movement” types, who are looking for a cause and are either libertarian or anarchist in their orientation.
“Willow Creek is an island. There is very little private property, being surrounded by Six Rivers National Forest. There are only 2,080 acres of private land,” said Rowley. He added that many people would like to see reasonable growth, but the geography makes it difficult. He also said that most young people wind up leaving town to find better paying jobs and social opportunities.
But Big Foot Days can be seen as somewhat of a Homecoming celebration for those who did leave town. In that sense, it is even more of a unifying event that sustains the core values of the community.