- Associated Press - Monday, July 21, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - For the record, Ranae Holland doesn’t believe in Bigfoot.

But she does love the stories.

Despite her disbelief, the South Dakota native, who grew up in Sioux Falls and spent summers with her grandparents in Pierre, is a co-host of “Finding Bigfoot,” a program on The Animal Planet that just began its fifth season.

Holland is touted as the group’s skeptic, a field biologist with more than a decade’s experience doing research with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Her fascination for the lore of the giant ape that is said to roam the North American continent can be traced to her childhood. In the 1970s she bonded with her father while watching paranormal shows, such as “In Search Of.”

“Even though I don’t believe Bigfoot is a real animal, I’m fascinated by the phenomena. And I get to be that little seven year old girl again, sitting on my dad’s lap watching the TV, hearing about this amazing encounter somebody had with a hairy beast in the woods,” she told the Capital Journal (http://bit.ly/1kw3P7Z ).

That love for the mystery surrounding the sightings stuck with Holland. After moving to Washington state, one of the centers of sightings, she connected with Bigfoot groups to have access to their databases of sightings and stories.

When the producers of the show originally asked her about participating, Holland said no. She didn’t want to be on television. But her mentors at NOAA and the University of Washington encouraged her to go for it, saying that anyone who knew her already knew of her loves for Bigfoot stories.

Holland said it also helped already being known and connected within professional circles.

“I don’t have to worry about it ruining me, career-wise,” she said.

The show’s success has been a little surprising, Holland said, but not that much because everyone loves a good Bigfoot story. If someone were to poll people in a Laundromat, bar or other establishment, more often than not they’ll find people who have had an encounter or know somebody who has, she said.

A highlight of Holland’s TV career has been going with Bob Gilman on horseback to where he and Robert Patterson in 1967 shot one of the most famous films of a supposed Bigfoot in Northern California. The film has been dissected by experts, believers and skeptics for the past several decades, but the debate whether it is authentic or a hoax is still unresolved.

“To me that doesn’t prove Bigfoot’s real, but nobody has been able to replicate it. And that’s impressive,” she said.

But the biggest reason she does the show is to teach kids to be scientific, objective and respect all viewpoints, Holland said. It’s also a way to promote getting outside and connecting with nature.

“If Bigfoot is a vehicle to get kids outdoors, I’m onboard,” she said.

Holland said she hears constantly from people on Facebook, Twitter, and her own website who say their kids who watch the show want to become a naturalist or a biologist. And that makes the whole experience worthwhile, she said.

“Because otherwise I might go a little bit crazy being surrounded by people who believe in Bigfoot 24/7. I do it for kids,” Holland said.

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Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, http://www.capjournal.com

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