North Carolina September 23, 2017
One Of The Quirkiest North Carolina Festivals Is A Must-Attend
What exactly is a woolly worm? If you’re really curious, you can find out at the 41st annual Woolly Worm Festival hosted in downtown Banner Elk. Attracting more than 17,000 people per year, the woolly worm signifies something like a ‘mountain groundhog’ predicting just how harsh the upcoming winter will be.
The Woolly Worm's legacy dates back to 1978 when local magazine editor, Jim Morton, wanted to do a woolly worm forecast in the upcoming issue. The problem, though, was that no two woolly worms (mainly their bands) were the same. Which one was to be trusted about the harshness of winter?
A woolly worm has 13 fur bands representing the 13 weeks of winter. The lighter brown band represents a mild winter and the darker represents a harsher winter. Knowing they needed a more exact formula, their 'ah-ha' idea can be traced back to the simplest problem-solving method: let's make them race!
Now, the third weekend in October is always set aside to race the worms. Situated between North Carolina's largest ski resorts, it's safe to say sometimes autumn comes a bit early here. Being able to predict the oncoming winter is vital. So how exactly do you make a worm race? For starters, the worms tirelessly make their way up a three-foot string in heat-after-heat of races. Still confused? Here are some ground rules set by the Woolly Worm website:
"First, 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!
Todd Bush (used with permission)
Did we mention there's also a $1000 dollar prize awarded to the winning worm, along with the bragging rights of winter predictions. If the majority of Americans can believe in a groundhog and its shadow for predicting spring, it's quite possible to believe a simple little woolly worm might be hiding some intuitive knowledge about winter as well. Just ask the almost 20,000 people who flood the streets of Banner Elk to watch one worm fulfill its prophecy and destiny.
The festival takes place October 19-20, 2019, with the first round of races beginning at 9:30 a.m. Each heat involves 25 worms and the races last till 4 p.m. Saturday's winning worm is the determiner for the winter to come. Sunday's races are usually a bit more laid back and in the spirit of good fun, but still include some small prizes. Mary Jo Brubaker, event chairperson, said,
""The festival is down-home, all-American fun. Turn off your cell phone, leave your stress behind and just have fun. It doesn’t get any better than this." The festival also includes plenty of food, drink and craft vendors. Not to mention the gorgeous town of Banner Elk is a pristine fall destination with plenty to see and do outside the festival.
What a fun and unique festival! It really embodies the spirit of small towns and their traditions. Have you attended before or have plans to attend this year?
For more information on the Woolly Worm Festival,
Wondering what else to do while in Banner Elk?
We’ve already made a two-day itinerary here.