The weather prognosticating skills of the woolly bear caterpillar take center stage Oct. 17-18 during the famous Woolly Worm Festival in downtown Banner Elk.
The festival, now in its 38th year, holds a series of races to determine which woolly worm is bestowed the honor of forecasting weather conditions for the upcoming winter.
According to legend, the 13 fur bands of the worm foretell the weather for all 13 weeks of winter. Brown bands indicate mild weeks and black bands indicate cold, snowy weeks.
“It’s unique. You have crafts, food and entertainment, but the unique aspect of the festival is that we race woolly worms,” says event chairperson Mary Jo Brubaker. “Not only does the winning worm determine the winter forecast for the North Carolina High Country, but the human being with the winning worm receives $1,000.”
Saturday is the day for determining the champion prognosticator, although races do take place Sunday for a smaller prize ($500) and no forecasting honors.
Races start both days shortly after gates open at 9:00 a.m. Each day’s championship race takes place at approximately 4:00 p.m. Attendees may bring their own worms, or purchase one for a dollar from school kids raising money for the local PTO.
“We encourage people to recycle the worms to someone else or release them back into the woods,” Brubaker says. “It’s just good all-American family fun. That’s all there is to it.”
The festival draws approximately 20,000 people from across the country. When they’re not racing worms, attendees enjoy live music, kids’ games, a superb collection of craft vendors, plus a variety of food options ranging from Amish doughnuts to Carolina barbecue.
The music lineup includes an Elvis tribute artist, Dolly Parton tribute artist and several bluegrass acts.
“My favorite part is watching families race the worms. We have families who come every year for a weekend in the mountains and they actually have team t-shirts,” Brubaker says. “And the fall foliage is just gorgeous. It’s a beautiful time to be in the North Carolina mountains.”
Admission to the festival is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-12. Kids five and under are admitted free.