"My family's lived in the Everglades area for over 100 years," he says, "I've always
researched skunk ape." In 1997, after a bunch of "sightings," Shealy decided to expand his research center and open it to the public. And while he's usually around to welcome guests, it's not uncommon for the 47-year-old explorer to cover 12 miles a day, on foot, searching for Florida's Big Foot during high season (January through April).
We hear that while deer liver, dog food, and rice can be used to
bait skunk apes, a bucket of soaked lima beans works best, but "seem to
lose their appeal after 5 days," according to the center's website. Still, we aren't suggesting you venture out to the swamp land and try to track down your own skunk ape. That's why Dave's around -- to be your guide.
In addition to camping, research, and skunk ape-related
knick-knacks (coffee mugs, bumper stickers, T-shirts), visitors can also learn about
some of the surrounding area's other wildlife. "I have cages of really big snakes," Shealy told us over the phone.
"I've got a case here with a bunch of skulls. I'm standing next to a 12-foot alligator right now." There's also a giant fiberglass Florida panther, recently appraised at $100,000 Shealey boasts, and a huge gorilla statue covered in leather.
It's no surprise that the entrepreneurial explorer's family business has been featured on numerous television shows such as The Daily Show and Unsolved Mysteries, magazines, and travel books. But don't let the 100-grand fiberglass big cat, or international notoriety fool you. Times are tough.
"I'm struggling," Shealy says. "I drink the water right out of the
swamp, and I eat the birds."
Support independent business this MLK weekend and make the trek out to Ochopee. Spend
some time with Shealy and his family and ask about the guided, "eco-friendly pole boat" tours
his son offers. Tell Shealy New Times sent you and bring us back a super cool skunk ape coffee mug with
gold lettering from the shop.