By Andrea Rodriguez-ortiz
This year, the Woolly Worm Festival of Banner Elk has an abundance of achievements to celebrate. Founded in 1978 by Jim Morton, the Woolly Worm Festival is celebrating its 41st anniversary this year, honoring 41 years of worm racing, charity, and family fun. Not only is the Woolly Worm Festival inching up its middle ages, the Banner Elk festival has just been named the official Woolly Worm Festival of North Carolina. The bill was signed into law on June 25th of 2018 by the North Carolina General Assembly.
For 41 years, the Woolly Worm Festival has provided Avery County, and it’s many visitors, a guaranteed fun, quirky weekend of worm races. North Carolina Senator Deanna Ballard and Representative Josh Dobson identified the love the community had for the weekend long festival and pioneered the process of getting the festival recognized as the State Woolly Worm Festival.
With a unanimous vote from the House and Senate, the Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival is now the North Carolina State Woolly Worm Festival, an achievement that pairs nicely with the 41st anniversary of the event. With support from the town of Banner Elk, the Avery Commissioners, the Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce, and the Banner Elk Kiwanis Club, the community was definitely cheering this festival all the way to the top.
Mayor Brenda Lyerly of Banner Elk is excited about the festival’s new status. Mayor Lyerly said, “I am thrilled that the Woolly Worm Festival has the new status as the Official North Carolina Woolly Worm Festival. This festival has been part of Banner Elk’s history for forty years. It is wonderful to see the excitement on the faces of the children in addition to seeing how the profits from the festival help many charities to raise funds to help children and the needy of our area.”
The festival, happening on the 21st and 22nd of October this year, is co-hosted by the Avery County Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Organization of Banner Elk. These two organizations work together with the town to bring an event that both entertains and serves its own community. The money from the admissions to the festival goes towards schools, children’s programs, local businesses, and tourism in Avery County.
41 years ago, the town of Banner Elk was brainstorming events to bring to the town, with the focus being on planning an annual event that would feature local merchants. Jim Morton, a creative man at heart, took what he learned about the folklore surrounding woolly worms and rolled with it. Working with the town, Morton was able to come up with an eclectic idea for an annual festival: woolly worm racing.
Woolly worms are a staple in the high country during the fall season. Not only are woolly worms incredibly cute, they also hold a lot of responsibility in predicting the winter weather for the North Carolina mountains. Based on folklore, the woolly worm is said to be able to predict the winter weather with the thirteen different colored segments of its body. Woolly worms’ thirteen segments can be a combination of many different colors, including scarlet, yellow, orange, white, and a variety of colors between black and beige.
Woolly worms can have very different color combinations than each other, and that is why the woolly worm races work so well. Morton combined both the idea of worm racing and the folklore surrounding woolly worms to give rise to the quirky festival. By racing the worms, the fastest and therefore “healthiest” worm is singled out. The healthiest worm is deemed the most fit to predict the weather, and that’s what happens following the races at the festival.
The winning worm of the festival is “read” in front of the festival crowd. Darker colors mean harsher temperatures and lighter colors mean more mild temperatures. In addition to having that incredible responsibility, the worm and its owner get to share a grand prize of $1,000! The worm races happen all weekend, not just on Saturday. On Sunday, although there is not a second prediction for the weather, the winner receives $500!
Over the two day festival, 1,000 worms are raced for the chance to win the prizes. Although 998 worms lose, the participants and crowd have an amazing time cheering their little racers on.
Even though the woolly worm races are definitely the stars of the show, the weekend has a lot more in store for the festivals attendees. The family-friendly event, which expects over 20,000 guests each year, features local vendors, crafts, rides, food, and live entertainment.
The event starts at nine in the morning on both days. Attendees are sure to have a great time watching worms climb, eating food, wandering through the vendors, and enjoying time with family and friends. The Woolly Worm Festival is about much more than worms and the weather. Throughout the quirky weekend, the Woolly Worm Festival both entertains and serves its community.
Make sure to mark your calendars for October 21st and 22nd, as the North Carolina State Woolly Worm Festival is sure to steal your breath. Whether you plan to race your own woolly creature or just cheer from the sidelines, the now North Carolina State Festival is something everyone should experience.
The North Carolina State Woolly Worm Festival is held in Banner Elk, North Carolina on the third weekend of October. This year, the festival falls on October 21st and 22nd. To learn more about woolly worms and the festival, visit http://www.woollyworm.com.