Named One Of The Top Ten Fall Festivals in North America by the Society of American Travel Writers!
Back in the late 1970s, the editor of the now-defunct Mountain Living Magazine, Jim Morton, was preparing to include a Woolly Worm Forecast in the winter issue of the magazine. He photographed the first Woolly Worm he saw to use in formulating the prediction and illustrating his story, but the next day he saw a second worm that looked completely different from the first.
"That's when it struck me that we needed some formal procedure to use to decide which was going to be the official worm for making the winter forecast," said Morton.
So since 1978, the residents of the village nestled between the Carolina's two largest ski resorts have celebrated the coming of the snow season with a Woolly Worm Festival. They set aside the third weekend in October to determine which one worm will have the honor of predicting the severity of the coming winter; and they make that worm earn the honor by winning heat after heat of hard-fought races - up a three-foot length of string.
The Woolly Bear caterpillar has 13 brown and black segments, which the late Charles Von Canon explained to the small crowd that huddled together in the sub-freezing temperatures at the first Woolly Worm Festival correspond to the 13 weeks of winter. The lighter brown a segment is, the milder that week of winter will be. The darker black a segment is, the colder and snowier the corresponding week will be.
"If you went solely by the attendance figures, you probably wouldn't call the first festival a success," recalled Morton. "But WCYB-TV in Bristol sent a cameraman and their report ended up being broadcast nationwide by NBC News. That national TV coverage was really what gave me the motivation to want to keep the event going."
And the 23,000 people who attended the Festival last year certainly are glad that he did. Because racing Woolly Worms is a total blast!
First, no person is more likely to have a winning worm than any other person. There is no home-field advantage, no preferred age for the person who sets the worm on the string (although worms raced by children do seem to win a bit more frequently).
Second, selecting names for the Woolly Worms is a delightful way to learn how amazingly creative your friends and family members can be. Consider these clever monikers: Merryweather, Patsy Climb and Dale Wormhardt.
Finally, there is no other experience in life that can produce the absurd euphoria that comes from cheering for a caterpillar to climb a string. It is so indisputably ridiculous that it is completely liberating!
And the $1,000 first prize that accompanies the prestige of having your worm used to pronounce the official winter forecast doesn't hurt either.
The Woolly Worm Festival opens to the public at 9:00 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, and the worm races begin around 10:00 a.m. Each heat consists of 25 worms and races continue all day until the grand final around 4 p.m. The winning worm on Saturday is declared the official winter forecasting agent. The Sunday worm races are for prestige, fun and small prizes.
In addition to the Woolly Worm Races, the festival features crafts, food vendors, live entertainment and much more. Last year's festival attracted an estimated 23,000 fans, 165 vendors and around 1,000 race entrants.
The Woolly Worm Festival is sponsored by the Avery County Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk and proceeds go to support children's charities throughout the county and small business promotion and tourism. For more information phone 828-898-5605.