DAYTON – In a year when many favorite gatherings have been postponed or canceled, fans of things that go bump in the night found a way to stay in the loop, literally. The annual Bigfoot BBQ and UFO Festival took place at Gearhart’s Milton Loop Campground near Mahoning Dam in Armstrong County last Sunday.

The yearly outdoor event saw near-normal attendance while adhering to state-mandated social distancing guidelines in a low-key fashion. The only signs that something was different were the appearance of face shields and masks on a few statues and a Bigfoot-theme T-shirt bearing the legendary “Social Distancing Champion.”

Christina Bergreen, a seamstress offering cloth face masks along with her usual festival merchandise, sat smiling beneath her canopy while seated at her sewing machine.

“This year does not seem to be all that different from prior years,” she said. “I have seen all the usual vendors here who show up all the time. And you could not ask for better weather.”

Vendors were selling everything from kettle-corn to self-published books, handmade herbal soaps to hand-strung bead jewelry.

Shetan Noir, an author based in Michigan, displayed several of her books, including her most recent work, “Mothman and Other Flying Creatures of the Midwest.” She makes the rounds of the festival circuit most years, even in one as peculiar as 2020.

“I have made it to most of the Mothman-related sites, including the Moundsville Bridge in West Virginia,” she said. “I will have to stop by and see the Kittanning bridge that was featured in the movie several years ago. It is closer to here than I knew.”

The campground’s small outdoor stage provided a platform for presentations about UFOs, Bigfoot and related paranormal topics throughout the day. Well-spaced groups of camp chairs were lined up in front of it, nearly empty at times, close to full at others. Listeners came and went at will.

A conversation with a regular attendee of many years standing brought up a common theme. The gathering has never been about advancing one theory or belief over another.

“The main thing we all talk about is that people do not belong in the natural world anymore,” one presenter said. “UFOs, Bigfoot and all the rest are abnormal in our world, and they scare us.”

A spokesman for the Milton Loop Campground confirmed that attendance has been close to normal during the summer months after a slightly delayed opening. He said that the facility will be open through Halloween, after which the site closes down for recreational camping during the winter months.

In the latter days of September, most campsites were full, especially the tent and RV sites near the Mahoning reservoir. When the barbecue and festival wound down after 6 p.m., the entire campground was spotless, attendees having picked up their trash and cleaned up their own messes.

Maybe this is the new normal.

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