Thanks to Frank Modica for photos from the 2011 Festival!
October 19-20, 2013
The Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk (about 85 miles from Asheville) provides an opportunity to witness wooly worm races and to debate how accurately the worms' stripes forecast winter. It's the third weekend of October. Since 1978, the residents of this village nestled between the Carolina's two largest ski resorts have celebrated the coming of the snow season with the Woolly Worm Festival. They determine which one worm will have the honor of predicting the severity of the coming winter; and they make that worm earn the honor by winning heat after heat of hard-fought races - up a three-foot length of string.
This year, the gates will open early at 9:00 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.There will be special music on Sunday by the John Schuffler Band. The added time at the festival will give festival goers more time to take in the over 140 food and craft vendors with their handcrafted items, plus rides, musicians and dance teams. They will have many returning vendors who make worm houses and pins, face painting and also include artists who do photography, pottery, stained glass and much more. Participants wishing to race their worm may register at 9:00 a.m., and shortly after that races begin. 25 worms are in each heat. Saturday’s winning Woolly Worm holds the esteemed honor of predicting the winter weather season and the Woolly Worm wins prize monies of $1000, which we hope the winning worm shares with its owner. Sunday’s winning Woolly Worm $500.
The Woolly Bear caterpillar has 13 brown and black segments, said to correspond to the 13 weeks of winter. The lighter brown a segment is, the milder that week of winter will be. The darker black a segment is, the colder and snowier the corresponding week will be.
No person is more likely to have a winning worm than any other person. There is no home-field advantage, no preferred age for the person who sets the worm on the string (although worms raced by children do seem to win a bit more frequently).
Second, selecting names for the Woolly Worms is a delightful way to learn how amazingly creative your friends and family members can be. Consider these clever monikers: Merryweather, Patsy Climb and Dale Wormhardt.
Finally, there is no other experience in life that can produce the absurd euphoria that comes from cheering for a caterpillar to climb a string. It is so indisputably ridiculous that it is completely liberating!
And the $1,000 first prize that accompanies the prestige of having your worm used to pronounce the official winter forecast doesn't hurt either.
The Woolly Worm races begin around 10 a.m. Each heat consists of 20 worms and races continue all day until the grand final around 4 p.m. The winning worm on Saturday is declared the official winter forecasting agent. The Sunday worm races are for prestige, fun and small prizes.
In addition to the Woolly Worm Races, the festival features crafts, food vendors, live entertainment and much more. The festival attracts 20,000 fans, 140 vendors and around 1,000 race entrants for a 10K.
The Woolly Worm Festival is sponsored by the Avery County Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk and a portion of the proceeds go to support children's charities throughout the county.
How to Race A Woolly Worm?
1. Get a Woolly Worm: There are many ways to get your very own Woolly Worm to race. One is to bring one with you from home. The drawback to this method is that if you live off the mountain, your woolly worm may not be used to the colder mountain weather and may be sluggish. Another alternative is to wait until you get to the mountains to start looking for your woolly worms. The third, and most popular, option is to purchase one right at the Woolly Worm Festival. There will be many local woolly worm 'breeders' on the festival grounds with a large assortment of specially bred and trained worms.
2. Name Your Woolly Worm: This is a very important step. The name you give your woolly worm can reflect your aspirations of his (or her) performance. You should be able to take pride if your woolly worm's name is called as the winner of the race!
3. Obtain A Registration Form: The official woolly worm race registration forms will be available right at the entrance to the Woolly Worm Festival grounds.
4. Visit The Registration Table: The registration table will be located near the large, raised platform where the races will be held. At the table, you will turn in your registration form, pay the $5 registration fee, and you will be assigned a Heat Number.
5. Listen For Your Heat To Be Called: The races move along quickly. When your heat is called, go directly to the race board.
6. Go Up To The Race Board: This is it! Get ready to race and good luck!
The Woolly Worm Woad Wace is a 10K footrace that takes place on the Saturday morning the week before the Woolly Worm Festival (the race is the second weekend in October). This 10K race takes a cross country/road race journey through the back roads and beautiful landscape of Avery County. This is a challenging and fun race because of the terrain.
Directions from Asheville: Take I-40 East to US Highway 221 North. Google Maps Directions.
For more: Avery County Chamber of Commerce