By Madison Fisler Lewis
Oct. 17, 2014. Woolly worms wanted! A regional shortage of woolly worms means that the Avery Chamber of Commerce needs to find as many of the cute critters as possible, and they need your help to have enough for the festival this weekend.
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.
“We still need about 1,000 woolly worms,” said Babette McAuliffe of the Avery Chamber. “We haven’t gotten any yet and we have been out here since 10:30 a.m. This is very unusual, but we think that it may have something to do with the weather.”
The deadline for the collection has been extended until 4 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The bounty for the woolly worms is $1 per worm and the Chamber is seeking to reach 1,200 of the critters by the time the festival rolls into town tomorrow.
“We are really desperate for worms and this is a great way for children or any group really to raise money, and the festival is one of the biggest charitable events in the area. This is very unusual, I think something like this has only happened once in the past 20 years.”
Jim Morton of Grandfather Mountain has also noticed a shortage of the critters this year.
“I have kept an eye out for woolly worms for as long as the festival has been going on and to be this far into October, I would say that there is no question that this is the fewest that I have ever seen in an autumn season up until now,” Morton said.
“Of course, we have had a run of bad weather, but the sun is out today and there is a pretty good chance that some worms can be found just in time. I know that there is a woolly worm festival in Pennsylvania and they had mentioned that they had very few woolly worms, so it is not just here, it seems to be something that is happening throughout the east. Sometimes the worms come out in large numbers later in October but usually it is well before now.”
Though the woolly worm shortage comes right before they are needed the most, Morton is confident that enough worms can be found in time.
“I think if people go out and want to help find some, they can probably find a lot of worms today,” Morton said. “I am getting ready to go outside and take some pictures and look for some woolly worms. It is not too late yet.”
If you are interested in going out to find woolly worms, here are a few tips about where to find them. Woolly worms can usually be found on the ground and are easily identifiable by their fuzzy bodies with black and brown bands. Woolly worms can usually be found under logs, rocks, boards and other dark places.
To collect your bounty, simply bring your worms to the Avery County Chamber of Commerce office located at 4501 Tynecastle Highway Unit 2 in Banner Elk.
If you can’t find any woolly worms there is still another way to help. Volunteers are still being sought for the festival. Interested parties may call 828-898-7427 to inquire.
Photos by Ken Ketchie