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Find Your Woolly Worms! The 37th Annual Woolly Worm Festival Held Oct. 18-19 in Downtown Banner Elk

By Madison Fisler Lewis

Oct. 13, 2014. Who will pick the winning winter weather worm this year? The 37th annual Woolly Worm Festival, scheduled for Oct. 18-19 in Banner Elk, is coming up quick! Since 1978, the residents of beautiful, scenic Banner Elk have celebrated the coming of winter with the highly-anticipated event that always takes place on the third weekend of October.

The annual festival will include great food, plenty of activities, craft vendors, performances and of course, the highlight event – the woolly worm races.

But some have to ask… what in the world is a woolly worm?

nick-ward-wormA “woolly worm” is a woolly bear caterpillar, which is a species native to the  area that has 13 brown and black bands, which are said to correspond to the thirteen weeks of winter. Dark bands mean that the corresponding week of winter will be harsh, cold and snowy, while a lighter, brown band means that the corresponding week of winter will be milder with less precipitation.

The formal procedure for determining which woolly worm is used to predict the winter-weather forecast has become the Woolly Worm Festival, where kids of all ages, from 2 to 92, choose their very own woolly worm and race them in a series of heats up a three-foot length of string. The winning worm on Saturday is crowned as the official forecasting woolly worm of the year, and the winning worm’s “handler” receives a $1,000 grand prize! Races will also continue on Sunday, for a grand prize of $500.

Participants wishing to race their worm may register at 9 a.m. and shortly thereafter, the races will begin. Twenty-five worms are in each heat, but please come early as races fill up early in the afternoon, said Executive Director of the Chamber Susan Freeman. “And we want all contestants to have an opportunity to Wace their Worm!”

Cost to enter the race is just $5. Participants may bring their own woolly worm to race, or woolly worms can be purchased from the Banner Elk PTO for just $1. All proceeds will go back to the community to enhance children’s programs and support small businesses.

Aside from the exciting woolly worm races, guests can also enjoy other activities as well.

More than 140 craft vendors will be on hand displaying and selling handcrafted items. Official Wooly Worm T-Shirts will be available at the Pink Gorilla booth. In addition, guests can enjoy live entertainment, inflatable rides and performances that will last all weekend long.

Admission to the Woolly Worm Festival is $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-12 and free for children age 5 and under.

Last year’s event had record-breaking attendance, with 25,000 people attending the festival over the weekend. This year, the Avery County Chamber of Commerce hopes that even more people will come out for a great time.

“The weather is supposed to be astronomically beautiful,” Freeman said. “Saturday, which is our biggest day, is going to be great. That’s when we pick the worm that predicts the weather.”

There will be many different parking options available for the event.

“For the first time, Feeding Avery Families will be out this year charging $5 for parking on a first come, first served basis,” Freeman said. “There will also be parking and a shuttle on Sugar Mountain, so there will be lots of options.

For those planning on attending the festival, Freeman has the following tips:

  • If you are coming to the festival, try to get here as early as possible. It cuts down the delay time in getting into the festival.
  • Bring cash. The ATM machine is available off-premise, but bring cash for worm races.
  • Name your worm, it is a lot more fun when you are cheering on your woolly worm
  • No pets. If you bring your pet there will be doggie daycare available.
  • If you want to race your worm, get to the festival by noon on Saturday. That way you have plenty of time to enter into the race.
  • Bring your smiles, your laughter and you camera!

“It is just fun,” Freeman said. “Mom and dad can listen to great music, the kids can play on the inflatables, there are haybales to sit down on to enjoy the day.”

The corporate race will also be open to businesses this year.

“Businesses can send a representative to race a worm for the trophy and to be the corporate sponsor next year,” Freeman said.

Those interested in the corporate race should pre-enter online or contact the Chamber of Commerce in advance.

For more information, call the Avery County Chamber of Commerce at 828-898-5605 or visit the website here. To purchase tickets online click here.