Tag Archives: Vermont

In Search of Champ, the Loch Ness Monster of North America

As a kid I was captivated by the mysteries of U.F.O.s, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts and other paranormal doings.

I grew up watching the television series “In Search of…” hosted by Leonard Nimoy and read whatever books I could about unexplained phenomena.

During free reading time in 7th grade, I was the nerd always with a book about U.F.O.s, with titles like “Project Blue Book” (named after the Air Force’s investigation into unidentified flying objects) or “Chariots of the Gods.”

Yeah, I was some sort of geek/desk-bound adventurer.

My interest in those topics waned as I took on the responsibilities of career, family and the other trappings of being a grown-up. (However, I was a HUGE fan of the television series “The X-Files.”)

But somewhere deep down there remained that childlike spark of curiosity and wonder about things that do not fit our orderly understanding of the world.

That spark was fanned into a flame recently when I read a Facebook post by a former colleague at The Press-Republican, Lohr McKinstry.

He posted that he was donating a trove of his articles about Champ, the often-reported, sometimes-documented but never-authenticated mystery creature of Lake Champlain, known as the Loch Ness Monster of North America.

That led me in June to spend some time in Vermont with Katy Elizabeth, the lead researcher and founder of Champ Search, which is dedicated to proving the existence of Champ and protecting it.

Katy Elizabeth unpacks equipment from her car, preparing for a day’s searching on the lake.

From my time working at The Press-Republican, I was aware of the legend. Sightings of Champ stretch back centuries to when Indian tribes populated the area and continue to present day.

Some early accounts described it as serpent more than 100 feet long though Elizabeth believes it might be an amphibian/reptile hybrid that is between 15 and 30 feet long, with knobs on its back, a long, slender snake-like neck and head shaped like a horse.

Skeptics believe the sightings can be attributed to gar, sturgeon, schools of fish or even logs.

Me? I was just excited to shadow Elizabeth in her work.

Over the years I’ve grown to appreciate people who see the world differently because they open up new horizons.

Plus, I have all the admiration and respect for anyone who is passionate about their work!

It was like going on a ghost hunt with all the spectrometers and other paranormal-measuring equipment except instead of looking for spirits in the basement of an abandoned hotel, I’d be outdoors on the shore of Lake Champlain.

Elizabeth, 33, who is known among locals as the “Champ Lady” or the “Lake Monster Queen,” got turned onto Champ when she was 7.

She was watching an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries,” which featured an episode about the creature.

She got hooked and has been ever since.

She will get up before sunrise and spend two to four hours staking out the lake and then return at sunset, the theory being that Champ is nocturnal.

The trunk of her car is filled with hard plastic containers with hydrophones with a recorder and underwater microphone, binoculars, camera and tripod.

Among the assorted equipment she relies on in her search efforts.

“You are not going to see something every day, but when you do, it’s an amazing experience,” she said, adding that patience and staying open to possibilities are critical.

Elizabeth, who grew up in Rhode Island near water, said she is a trained observer of lakes and seas and can readily distinguish logs, fish and boats from other objects on the water’s surface that are not readily explained.

Some of the things she told me about Champ were a surprise.

For instance, though “Champ” is often referred to in the singular, it really is “Champs,” as in a whole school of them.

She described the creatures as “a very tough species of animals” given how they have survived the sewage and other pollution that has gone into the lake over the years.

The other thing that surprised me was that there have been reported sightings of Champ on land!

She regularly scours the shoreline searching for teeth, bones or other physical traces of Champ. In one case she found a bone of an ancient bison, a conclusion she said was backed up by a natural history museum in Ohio that examined the relic.

“It’s really cool to find stuff like that to remind you how ancient this area is,” she said.

Tripod and camera at the ready, Katy Elizabeth regularly scours the lake on the search for Champ.

As for the dearth of physical evidence of Champ, such as scat, a skeleton or carcass, Elizabeth is quick to ask: “How many times do you find a dead turtle? You think about whales and dolphins. How many times do you see a carcass of these animals?”

She said some species know when their death is imminent and seek hidden places to die. And with Lake Champlain being 120 miles long, there are a lot of places of hide.

Elizabeth herself has had more than a dozen encounters with Champ, garnering her five different videos and four or five audio recordings. Some of the sounds might be territorial calls, she said.

She attributes her extraordinary number of sightings to a heightened sensitivity to paranormal elements.

“I am not Ms. Cleo,” she said, referring to the psychic best known for her television commercials pitching a psychic pay-per-call service. “I pick up on things.”

Elizabeth hopes to earn degrees in marine biology and marine bioacoustics but in the meantime relies on her own self-taught methods and research.

While some “armchair researchers” will either merely talk about the search for Champ or put in a perfunctory effort, Elizabeth said she is dedicated full time to finding proof of its existence.

But her work will not stop there.

Protecting the creature is vital, she said. “People think that once Champ is discovered, that’s the end but it’s really the beginning.”

Such a discovery would open up Champ to study similar to tagging sharks or whales and learning more about their behaviors and characteristics.

“I think the most important thing for people who are skeptical is to keep an open mind,” she said. “To think we are the only beings on this planet is selfish.”

On the day of my visit, we were at Arnold Bay on the Vermont side, looking across the lake at Westport and Port Henry in New York. Apart from a father and daughter fishing, I didn’t see any activity on the lake.

I’m a skeptic by nature (and training) but it’s difficult, after talking at length to Elizabeth and hearing her passion and enthusiasm for her work, not to discount the possibility that something unexplained lurks beneath the surface in Lake Champlain.

I want to believe…

Another Moose Egg

Early in July, my wife and I set out for a vacation to New Hampshire and Maine, part of which included plans to go on a moose expedition.

As you may recall, I have been on a 30-year odyssey to see a moose in the wild.

Three previous attempts – two with a wildlife biologist in New York and one with an outdoors guide in Maine – were fruitless.

Ditto our impromptu efforts driving the highways and byways of places called “Moose Alley” and crisscrossing Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.

Seeing a bear on our way out of town at our local Dunkin’ Donuts in the Poconos struck me as a good omen.

The bear was foraging for food in the parking lot dumpster and lingered for so long that a crowd gathered to shoot photos and videos.

Surely, I thought, the wildlife gods were signaling me that my quest to see a moose would be successful.

We trekked to Lincoln, N.H., for a night tour of the “wallows” – hot spots where moose gather near the roadside to forage for vegetation or lap up the sodium-rich road salt left over from winter.

Our intrepid guides, Larry and Tony, boasted of a 97 percent moose sighting rate over 18 years.

Ninety-seven percent!

Plus, with their native New Hampshire accents (“wicked smaht”), I felt like we were in the hands of true moose whisperers.

Granted, the night before, their excursion only saw two moose, but hell, that would be two more than I’ve seen in the wild.

I was undaunted.

About 30 of us piled into a small but comfortable bus and we left at 9 p.m. for a three-hour tour.

Our guides emphasized that moose are not animatronic characters who perform on command like the animals at Disney World attractions.

That said, they said they would work hard to find moose – and that they did.

Using spotlights, our guides scanned the roadside places where moose were known to congregate.

The vibe in the bus early in the trip was upbeat and jovial as they cracked hokey jokes. About 90 minutes into the trip, we stopped at a general store for a bathroom break and some sweet treats.

No moose.

No problem, they said. The night before they did not see one until after the break.

But as the night wore on, and our stops became more frequent and less fruitful, the mood grew more quiet and less cheery.

Thankfully we were sitting on the right side of the bus to catch a glimpse of the face of a young moose cow. But that was it – a glimpse – after three and a half hours.

It is hardly what I would consider a full-fledged moose sighting but it did technically break my 30-year drought.

Still, it was a bit like being promised a hamburger from Shake Shack and getting one from White Castle instead.

Related links:

No Moose, No Peace



No Moose, No Peace

Captain Ahab had Moby Dick.

Wile E. Coyote had the Road Runner.

And Elmer Fudd had that wascally wabbit.

My quarry for 25 years has been a moose.

Not one in particular, just ANY moose. And for the record, not to spear, eat or shoot, but to merely glimpse one of these magnificent creatures in the wild.

It is an obsession that took root when I was a reporter in the Adirondacks in 1990 and participated in a search with wildlife biologists for a moose nicknamed Big Richard (more on that in a minute).

Since then I have been to Maine (three times, including to Moosehead Lake twice, most recently this summer), gone on a moose-spotting adventure tour and traveled to Vermont and New Hampshire (including to a section of roadway known as “Moose Alley”).

Do you think that in all of those trips to places heavily populated by members of the deer family that I have spotted a single one?

Nope. Every time, they have flipped me the hoof.

In Moose Alley and yes, I am wearing a moose T-shirt.

My enthusiasm for moose started when I was a reporter at the Press-Republican, a newspaper based in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

I was invited by a wildlife biologist from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to tag along with a contingent of researchers who were tracking a moose to change the battery on its radio collar.

As a kid who grew up in the Bronx, my experiences with wildlife were limited to squirrels and pigeons, animals I saw at the Bronx Zoo and whatever I encountered on the subway.

My collection of moose friends at home.

So when the chance arose to observe a moose in the woods, I seized it.

I felt like Marlin Perkins minus the safari jacket.

My first revelation was about the name of our quarry.

When I asked the researchers why he was called Big Richard, they gave me a look that conveyed “Are you that naive?”

And in that moment I had an Edith Bunker epiphany and went “Oooooohhhhh! OH! OH! NOW I get it!”

Yes, this is a bona fide moose antler that I bought at a taxidermy shop in the Adirondacks.
Yeah, right. Didn’t see a single moose, much less crash into one.

A contingent of researchers trailed by reporters tromped through the thick woods in a tropical downpour. We were soaked, having taken on more water than the Titanic.

Nonetheless, we trudged on as radio signals indicated we were getting closer to Richard.

But at that point I had to break off from the search since my wife at the time needed to get to her graduate class in Plattsburgh, and we only had one car.

Of course, after I left, the search party spotted Richard. The researcher raised his tranquilizer rifle, aimed and fired. The shot went wide. Richard, spooked by the noise, took off.

A second search for him that I joined weeks later was equally fruitless. Alas, his remains were found about a year later, apparently having succumbed to natural causes.

Despite my absolute dismal record for finding moose, I remain fascinated by these creatures and as interested as ever in seeing one in the wild.

When the rut is on, they are quite active and can travel vast distances in search of a mate.

My no-fail plan?

Hitting the woods during the mating season, bathed in Eau de Mrs. Bullwinkle.

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