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Court finds state violated Bigfoot's right to free speech

Staff Report
New Hampshire Union Leader

January 13. 2012 12:23PM

CONCORD - 'Bigfoot' can roam Mount Monadnock with a camera in tow free of any permit because the National Natural Landmark is so well known it constitutes a 'traditional public forum' where free speech is protected, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The court threw out a state Department of Resource and Economic Development (DRED) regulation requiring performance artist Jonathan Doyle of Keene to get a permit 30 days ahead of filming 'Bigfoot' talking to hikers in Mount Monadnock State Park.

To get the permit, Doyle was required to pay $100 and obtain a $2 million insurance policy covering the state.

The court battle began more than two years ago. On Sept. 6, 2009, Doyle decided to film himself dressed as 'Bigfoot' on the 3,165-foot mountain, which is owned and managed by DRED. The mountain has 100-mile views to points in all six New England states, the court noted in its 11-page ruling, and is said to be the second most climbed mountain in the world.

Doyle bought a costume resembling an ape and climbed the mountain with his girlfriend. At the top, he put on the costume and filmed conversations he had with other hikers.

About 20 minutes later, he removed the costume and headed back down. On the way, he met two park staff members, and persuaded them to write a note saying there had been a 'Bigfoot sighting' on the mountain.

Later, the staffers said they were just playing along with what they thought was a college project. But after leaving the park, Doyle went to the local police station and also to the New Hampshire State Police barracks in Keene to tell them of the Bigfoot sighting on Mount Monadnock.

Pleased with the reception his Bigfoot hoax received, Doyle decided to stage a second Bigfoot event. First, he had a friend interview him about the prior filming and sent out a press release that Doyle gave to the Keene Sentinel. The newspaper printed a story saying Doyle would again climbed the mountain dressed as Bigfoot. He also promoted the event on his website.

Monadnock State Park manager Patrick Hummel, learning of Doyle's plans, sent an email to his supervisor Brian Warburton, telling him of Doyle's plans. Hummel said Doyle 'never ran anything by him.' He was annoyed that newspapers were calling him to ask whether the Bigfoot story was legitimate and told Warburton the Bigfoot party would soon return and, because he believed they had 'stepped over the line,' he would intercept them prior to their ascent.

Two days later, Doyle and five others were back at the mountain to film. They hiked up to the halfway house, a trail junction, and prepared to perform. Doyle and two of his friends remained in plain clothes, while the others dressed up as Bigfoot, Yoda and a pirate. Doyle filmed a few scenes and interviewed passing hikers and several people stopped to watch the filming.

Soon after, Hummel arrived and asked Doyle if he had a special use permit. Doyle said he didn't and Hummel told him he had to leave the mountain. The group complied with the order and then Doyle filed suit in Cheshire County Superior Court.

Judge Larry Smukler upheld the state regulation requiring the permit and $2 million bond. Doyle, with the help of the ACLU, appealed that decision, which the high court overturned Friday.

The court said its ruling is a narrow one and rests on the assumption that Mount Monadnock is a traditional public forum, a position DRED took in Superior Court but, on appeal, instead argued the mountain was either a limited public forum or non-public forum, which would allow for some restrictions.

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