OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma's bounty on Bigfoot has grown to nearly $2.1 million mere weeks after a state lawmaker proposed a controversial bill to allow capturing of the mythical creature.
State Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, said it doesn't matter that his legislative measure never made it out of committee. It did exactly what he intended it to do -- promote interest and tourism in his heavily wooded district in southeast Oklahoma that reportedly boasts the ninth most sightings in the world of the legendary ape-like creature.
Humphrey said he initially thought he'd have to go through the state wildlife department to issue hunting licenses for Bigfoot, but quickly discovered the state tourism department can issue tracking permits since the intent is not to kill or injure the elusive beast.
Now he's working with state tourism officials to set up rules for Bigfoot enthusiasts who want to participate in Oklahoma's "Sasquatch Quest."
The No. 1 rule -- Sasquatchers must capture Bigfoot unharmed and can't injure anyone else or break any laws in the process.
"We've got to get some language, make sure that we protect Bigfoot and that we protect the public (so) that nobody is injured," he said.
Humphrey's original plan suggested lawmakers set aside a $25,000 bounty for Bigfoot's capture, but he said an upcoming Hollywood Bigfoot movie pledged around $2 million while another private business promised an additional $100,000. That eliminated any need for state funding.
He said state tourism officials are now developing a Bigfoot promotional campaign that includes license plates, decals, an annual commemorative tracking license and "Bigfoot checkout stations." He said they're also working on a map of the region to show visitors the best route to take to spot Bigfoot while promoting nearby businesses at the same time.
Any profits generated from the new Bigfoot tourism campaign will be used to maintain the state's lakes, parks and roadways that are in "terrible, terrible condition," he said.
Humphrey said he'd like to affix "Road sponsored by Bigfoot" signs and perhaps add some Sasquatch tracks to public areas that have been improved thanks to the tourism campaign.
"We're having fun with it," he said. "It's a lot of fun. I'm enjoying it. But at the same time, I know a lot of people thought I was crazy. But, I think if people chill out, (they could) see that this could be a serious deal bringing in a lot of money, a lot of tourism."
The state's Department of Tourism did not respond to requests seeking comment.
Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, the state's secretary of tourism and branding, said he's never personally seen a Bigfoot, but holds out hope that maybe one day someone will.
He said southeastern Oklahoma has long promoted Bigfoot aggressively. Stores sell T-shirts, hats and bumper stickers. The area is also home to a well-known Bigfoot festival.
"There's already a positive economic impact with Bigfoot," he said. "It's been a big economic boost for the area for decades."
Pinnell said he hasn't worked much with Humphrey on the bounty idea, but said there's support for a tourism campaign to raise money that can be reinvested into area trail systems and roadways.
The current plan is to allow businesses along State Highway 259A, which runs through Beavers Bend State Park, to sell annual Bigfoot tracking permits, he said. Profits from the sales would stay in the local communities.
Pinnell said Bigfoot legislation is not needed, nor probably the right move for Oklahoma.
"We were concerned with his idea of sending people into the woods to trap a Bigfoot," Pinnell said. "(We) certainly didn't want to harm any individuals or Bigfoots for that matter."
Pinnell said Bigfoot is a fascinating topic, much like the Loch Ness Monster. In the Broken Bow area one entrepreneur has built a Bigfoot statute between 20 and 30 feet tall in front of his Sasquatch gas station.
"There are few areas in the country that promote (Bigfoot)," Pinnell said. "And with tourism attractions today, you want something that's authentic and unique that separates you from the competition."
Humphrey said his ultimate goal is to draw in tourists by providing safe, affordable fun.
"I hope people get here and ride 4-wheelers and do fishing and go to the restaurants and sleep in motels," he said. "Come to Oklahoma, have an adventure. Enjoy yourself, tell your friends and come back."
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.