Champ expert Dennis Hall helps Champion the cause

Anyone who seeks information about Champ, whether it's at the library, on the Internet or at Lake Champlain itself, will unavoidably come across the name Dennis Hall. He has written a book detailing the quest for Champ. His Champ Quest organization has a website all about the elusive creature, including photos and drawings. And he claims to have seen Champ and a few baby Champs 19 times at the lake. If there's an expert voice on Champ research, Dennis has got to be it.

Born in Middlebury, Vermont 42 years ago, he spent most of his life working as a carpenter. But two years ago, on his 40th birthday, a nail struck him in the right eye, leaving him blind in that eye. Since then, his research on Champ, which began as a hobby, has turned into a full time occupation.

His reason for such strong interest in Champ is simple: "Nineteen personal sightings," he says, matter-of-factly.

Hall's organization, Champ Quest, is a not-for-profit organization registered with the state of Vermont. He's received a few hundred dollars for research, but the rest has come from his own pocket. In addition to his research on Champ, Hall is also working on a volume of books dealing with the history of Vermont.

We interviewed Hall recently. Here's what he had to say.

U-HAUL: Do you think Champ exists? What facts support your belief?
HALL: Champ does exist and is not alone. I have seen these reptiles on 19 different occasions. One encounter included all three senses: sight, sound and smell. The creature was less than 50 feet away from me. The air was filled with a very strong snake-like smell. I followed the animal for 45 minutes and had to give up when it moved out into the marsh.
In 1985, I captured Champ on video as it fed near Basin Harbor, Vermont. The video is 22 seconds long. If treated and analyzed with the respect it deserves, it is all the evidence needed to prove the existence of these animals.
The Mansi photograph is simply the best still photo ever taken of a lake monster. But the best and most overlooked hard evidence is the actual reports from people who have seen them.

U-HAUL: What is it about Champ and other creatures, such as Loch Ness, that grabs people's attention?
HALL: The unknown.

U-HAUL: Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Champ creatures do exist, what kind of creature is it? Do you think it is a prehistoric dinosaur, or just a big fish?
HALL: The animal that best depicts what I have seen is a very ancient reptile called Tanystropheus. It looks and acts like a giant snapping turtle (only without the shell).
They hibernate in the winter just like a turtle and are in Lake Champlain because this is and has been their home for the past 12,000 years.

U-HAUL: How has Champ been able to avoid being caught or at least videotaped in a way that proves its existence?
HALL: Champ has been captured on video four times that I am aware of. The best video of any lake monster was taken of Champ in 1985 by myself. Animals that were not identified have been caught on three occasions. Descriptions by the captors match other eyewitness accounts over the years.

U-HAUL: Is there any chance that Champ is dangerous to swimmers and/or boaters?
HALL: No! There are no accounts of these animals physically harming anyone. From a mental standpoint, the shock or excitement of seeing one of these animals could have an adverse affect on certain people. Some of my own up-close sightings have released enough adrenaline within me to make me wonder afterwards, if rational or clear thinking exists in such a state. In other words Champ is not a dangerous animal, but an up-close sighting can create a dangerous animal… man.

U-HAUL: The Mansi photograph did a lot to bring Champ into the media spotlight. Is there any new evidence that could give more solid proof of its existence?
HALL: I had never made public still shots captured from the video I took in 1985, until Zebra Mussels invaded Lake Champlain. The goal of Champ Quest was, and still is, to protect these animals. The video, if released, has the potential of drawing a million or more people to Lake Champlain. This would not fall under the category of protection. Champ Quest failed the day Zebra Mussels were introduced into Lake Champlain. That day marked the beginning of the end for most of the native fishes and reptiles that have lived and thrived in the Champlain Valley the past 12,000 years. Still shots from the video provide the photographic evidence to prove the animals exist. Physical evidence is required to identify the species. This cannot be done based on photographs.

U-HAUL: How many Champ-like creatures are living in the lake?
HALL: There must be a breeding population in order for them to exist at all. These reptiles have been seen in sizes ranging from 1 foot to 30 feet and simultaneously in different parts of the lake. There could be as many as 15 living in the lake or as few as 6.

U-HAUL: Do you think any of the Champ creatures will ever be caught or, at least, proven to exist?
HALL: Intentionally catching one is out of the question; it would be a form of harassment and both the states of Vermont and New York have passed laws protecting these animals from any form of harassment. To anyone that has seen these animals the proof already exists. Photographs add to the evidence but do not provide the proof needed to identify the species. Physical evidence such as skin would do that. Being reptiles they must shed their skin; therefore, the possibility exists to recover a piece. Ongoing research, on the part of Champ Quest, will one day narrow the search field for just such a specimen