A hiker checks out the Bigfoot Trap on the Collings Mountain Trail. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]

Bigfoot Trap still lures hikers

Some places are just too wonderfully weird to pass up.

Case in point: What's believed to be the world's only Bigfoot Trap.

The trap, a 10-by-10-foot wooden box with a now bolted metal door, wasn't originally a gimmick. Members of the North American Wildlife Research Team built the trap in 1974, spurred on by area miner Perry Lovell, who told anyone who'd listen that he had found 18-inch-long human-like tracks in his garden and had seen several large creatures roaming the area's forests.

Lovell's tales intrigued Roger Patterson, who had earlier stirred interest with footage of a blurry "Bigfoot" walking and looking at his camera. Patterson contacted wildlife filmmaker Ron Olson. After visiting the Applegate region, Olson selected a trap site near Lovell's reported sighting. After being issued a Forest Service special-use permit, he and others hauled materials, including 2-by-12-foot metal planks that were bound together with metal bands and anchored to telephone poles, to the site.

It's only about three-quarters of a mile from the roadside Collings Mountain trailhead near Applegate Lake to the trap. Back before Applegate Dam and adjoining roads were built in 1980, the trap site was remote, requiring a longer, more challenging hike along a hillside above Grouse Creek.

The trap builders hoped to lure the big-footed Sasquatch by placing rabbit, goat and other carcasses inside the trap. The heavy metal door was rigged to slam shut and sound an alarm inside a nearby watchman's cabin when the bait was taken. The on-duty watchman would contact the researchers, who would tranquilize, study, film and tag the creature before releasing it.

Depending on the source, the only captives were a bear or two, an "angry hunter" and a hippie. In 1980, the trap door was permanently welded open.

In 2005, the abandoned trap, already seriously falling apart, was nearly destroyed by a falling pine tree. A year later, volunteers fixed the roof and replaced floorboards.

Since then the trap has become a tourist attraction, luring hundreds of curiosity seekers, something made easy by the proximity of the Collings Mountain Trail, which leads to the crumbling remains of the old watchman's cabin.

From the trailhead, it's a pleasant walk alongside seasonal Grouse Creek through stands of bigleaf maple, Douglas fir, madrone and, more significantly, fields thick with poison oak. Be prepared. The badly weathered trap is littered with graffiti, but it still remains a place of fascination.

To get there from Medford, take Highway 238 to Ruch, turn left on Applegate Road and go 16 miles to Applegate Dam. Drive past the dam and the Hart-Tish Park entrance. A Bigfoot track on the trail marker marks the beginning of the Collings Mountain Trail, which is on right side of the road across from the lake.

Another worthy sight on the way to the trail is the McKee Covered Bridge, Oregon's fourth oldest covered brudge and, because it sits 45 feet above the Applegate River, the highest. The bridge was built in 1917 and celebrated its centennial this summer. It was built by Jason Hartman and sons on land donated by Adelbert "Deb" and Leila McKee to eliminate two river fords that were impassable when the river was high. It was used for mining and logging traffic through 1956, when it was declared unsafe for vehicles.

In 1999, the McKee Bridge Historical Society was formed to oversee the bridge's restoration and provide ongoing maintenance. The group relies on donations. The bridge and adjacent picnic area are about 8½ miles south of Ruch.

For an easy add-on hike from the Bigfoot Trap, return to the remains of the watchman's cabin and follow the Collings Mountain Trail uphill another quarter-mile plus to an adit, or passage used to access a potential mine.

For a longer hike, continue along the Collings Mountain Trail, which was named for a pioneer mining family that moved to Southern Oregon in the 1850s. From the cabin remains, the trail continues 3½ miles, part of it steeply uphill before reaching a ridge with views of Applegate Lake and the Siskiyou Crest. Either double-back back to the cabin or continue another three miles on the trail to the Watkins Campground at Applegate Lake's south end and follow a lakeside trail about 3½ miles back to the Collings Mountain trailhead and parking area for a roughly 10-mile loop hike.

— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.


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