LEOMINSTER -- After a close encounter on a sultry summer day in June 2010, Bill and Julie Penning are believers in one of the most mythical creatures of North America.
"I believe I found footprints of Bigfoot," Bill Penning said Friday.
Julie Penning is willing to debunk the Bigfoot legend, but she's found no credible evidence to disprove what she and her husband found in the Leominster State Forest."If somebody can scientifically tell me what it is, I'll listen," Julie Penning said.
The rest of the country will get to hear their tale on Animal Planet's "Finding Bigfoot" television show tonight at 10.
"I'm a little nervous about it," Julie Penning said. "I haven't told anyone at work."
With the help of their friend Ronny Le Blanc, they took a plaster casting of what they believe is a Bigfoot's footprint.
Julie Penning is a special education teacher at the Florence Sawyer School in Bolton, and Bill Penning is a facilities manager for Progress Software in Bedford. In a city where the area around Jungle Road and Route 117 was once known as Monsterland and parents would scare their misbehaving children with stories of creatures walking on their hind legs in the woods, the thought of a Bigfoot roaming around at least fits, the couple said.
They each had the day off on June 27, 2010, and decided to a hike through the Leominster State Forest even though temperatures were soaring into the upper 90s because they figured it would be cooler than lying on the beach.
"We're not out there looking for anything weird, we're just hiking," Bill Penning said.
He is an outdoorsman who hunts and rides four-wheelers but the couple took a wrong path in the woods as they walked toward Notown Reservoir. Suddenly there was a loud crashing of something going through the nearby underbrush.
"I assumed we spooked a deer and it would jump out in front of us," Bill Penning said.
But nothing came out on the trail and the couple kept going until reaching the power lines where they realized the underbrush blocked their way to the reservoir. They sat down for lunch before doubling back. When they reached the point at which they heard the noise earlier, there were large tracks of bare feet coming in and out of the brush line along with deer prints.
Neither set of prints had been there an hour earlier when they passed.
"They were so deep and so far apart it was shocking," Bill Penning said of the footprints. "Who would be up there randomly on a Tuesday afternoon running barefoot?"
It appeared whatever made the prints weighed several hundred pounds with strides were about 6 1/2 feet long.
"Right where the footprints ended, the deer prints ended so we figured he scooped it up," Bill Penning said.
The couple got so unnerved by the oddity of the sighting that Bill Penning picked up a rock for protection.
As they studied the tracks, the couple had the sense of being watched and left.
Bill Penning's brother Kevin introduced them to Bigfoot believer Ronny Le Blanc about 10 days later.
Le Blanc has been interested in Bigfoot since he was a child reading about unexplained mysteries at Leominster Public Library.
"I've always been fascinated (but) never in my wildest dreams, with Monsterland in my backyard, did I imagine," he said. The three of them decided to go back to the area of the sighting to take pictures and get a plaster molding.
"Sure enough, the footprints are still there," Bill Penning said. Within minutes young people on four-wheelers came by and would have torn up the prints if the small expedition were not there to protect them.
They mixed the plaster too thin so rather than waiting for it to set, they dug up the ground around the print and took the dirt and drying plaster home. The print is not only about 11 inches long but is nearly six inches wide.
"And this thing is a good 2 1/2 inches deep," Le Blanc said. Rather than being a static footprint, the print indicates whoever or whatever made it was pushing off as if in motion, Bill Penning said.
The print would indicate the Bigfoot is a female or adolescent. Bigfoot researchers believe female prints are 10-14 inches and grown males are 17-19 inches, Bill Penning said. He and Le Blanc took the casting to a town hall meeting of Bigfoot enthusiasts in Covington, R.I. that was arranged by Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization which is featured on the Animal Planet television show.
"I was the only one there with a footprint," Bill Penning said.
Producer Aaron Steele was excited by the cast of the footprint and decided to bring the cast and crew to Leominster to film a re-enactment Sept. 15. About 20 people spent a rainy day filming the segment with the Pennings and Le Blanc."This has been quite an adventure for us," Bill Penning said.
Neither Steele nor the show's lead investigator Matt Moneymaker could be reached for comment.
Follow Jack Minch:n twitter.com/jackminch
Read more: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/topstory/ci_19700258#ixzz4Ke2Q4MaE