By Nathan Ham
Even with some damp and slightly chilly weather on Saturday and Sunday, big crowds still turned out for the 42nd Annual Woolly Worm Festival.
Last year’s festival was a forgettable one as high winds ravaged vendor tents and forced the cancellation of Sunday events. This year made up for it in a big way with lots of happy folks and happy vendors.
“The festival went great, some of the vendors said they had the best day Saturday that they had ever had in the whole time they have ever been at Woolly Worm in one day,” said Melynda Pepple, the Executive Director of the Avery County Chamber of Commerce. “Our crowds were phenomenal the entire morning. Then it got a little rainy, but for a while there, you could hardly move. We were very happy with the turnout. Everyone seemed happy, excited and very positive.”
Pepple said that while she did not have the exact total of the number of worms involved in the woolly worm races, on average approximately 2,500 worms race each year during the festival. Over 1,000 worms were purchased this year to raise money for the many non-profit organizations that benefit from the festival
“All proceeds are given back to the community to enhance our schools, children’s programs and to promote businesses and tourism in Avery County,” said Pepple.
Each year, the Woolly Worm Festival happens on the third weekend of October and it takes a big crew of volunteers and community leaders to make this event so great.
“We appreciate the community effort and partnership from our volunteers because, without them, we cannot do this by ourselves. It takes all of us coming together and we are most grateful for everyone’s effort for this exciting event since we are now the official Woolly Worm Festival of North Carolina,” Pepple said. “We look forward to our 43rd annual woolly worm festival and have already received applications for next year.”
The state officially acknowledged Banner Elk’s festival as the official Woolly Worm Festival of North Carolina when the North Carolina General Assembly signed a bill into law recognizing this on June 25, 2018.
The event had about 200 vendors show up this year, as it does each and every year.
The biggest part of the celebration is always the winning woolly worm in the race. This year, the winner was Wild Worm Will owned by Leslee Brown of Wilmington. The winning worm also predicts the winter weather for 2019-20 by adding up the colors of the worm’s 14 segments representing the 14 weeks of winter. Wild Worm Will had two black segments, two fleck (mix of brown and black) segments, one black segment, two light brown segments, four brown segments, one fleck segment and two light brown segments.
For those that are hoping for a mild winter, if you can make it through the first five weeks of winter, you may very well be the big winner. Wild Worm Will is predicting the first two weeks of winter to have above-average temperatures with snowfalls over one inch, two weeks of below-average temperatures with light snow/frost, then another week of above-average temperatures and snowfalls over one inch. After the first five weeks, things calm down with Wild Worm Will predicting two weeks of above-average temperatures, four weeks of average temperatures, one week of below-average temperatures and light snow/frost and two weeks of above-average temperatures to end the winter season.