Woolly Worms Race For The Finish Line In Banner Elk

Banner Elk’s 42nd annual Woolly Worm Festival draws people from near and far to this Blue Ridge Mountain town for two days of racing woollybear caterpillars. This year’s festival takes place Oct. 19-20.

“We have a lot of people who come to Banner Elk in the fall to look at the leaves, so the festival adds an extra fun thing to do,” says Mary Jo Brubaker, festival chairperson. “It’s really an all-American small town at its best.”

Races take place throughout the day Saturday and Sunday at the Historic Banner Elk School. The overall winner of Saturday’s races earns a $1,000 grand prize and gets to predict the winter weather for the North Carolina High Country. Sunday’s winner receives a $500 prize.

The quirky tradition was born out of mountain lore that says the 13 segments of a woollybear caterpillar represent the 13 weeks of winter. Black bands mean cold, snowy weeks, while brown bands indicate warmer conditions. Each caterpillar has a different color pattern, so the festival designates which caterpillar provides the forecast.

All attendees are welcome to race a woolly worm. They may bring their own or purchase one from the local PTO. The races take place in heats of 25 contestants. The first worm to the finish line moves on to the next round.

“It’s really neat to see families participating together,” Brubaker says. “It’s a good, wholesome weekend for people to spend time laughing and cheering and bonding as a family.”

Additional activities include food and craft vendors and live entertainment.

Hours are 9am to 5pm on Saturday, and 9am to 4pm on Sunday. Those interested in racing a worm must register and are encouraged to do so by 1pm. Daily admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children 5 and younger. For festival information, go to www.BannerElk.com