Under cloudless blue skies, nearly 20,000 people gathered at
Banner Elk Elementary School for the 33rd annual Woolly Worm Festival last weekend.
On Saturday, Oct. 16, 1,400 woolly worms were raced up strings to determine the ultimate winner.
Fifty-six heats were run on Saturday, with 25 worms in each heat. Trainers yelled, clapped and encouraged their worms up the strings, but were not allowed to touch them.
In the final round at the end of the day, Jack, trained and raced by 5-year-old Cole Peurifoy of Concord, won $1,000 for his owner and earned the prestigious right to predict the upcoming winter's weather.
After a strict examination by Dr. Susan of the Woolly Worm Sports Medicine Clinic to ensure that Jack was free of performance-enhancing substances, including a urine sample collected in an acorn, Tommy Burleson "read" the colored segments on Jack and compiled the forecast for this winter.
"This looks like another harsh winter," Burleson said. "It will be good for the ski slopes this year."
With black on each end and dark brown in the center, the winter of 2010-11 may even be colder than last year. Here is the outlook for this winter, according to Jack:
Week 1: Black - cold and snow Week 2: Black - cold and snow Week 3: Black - cold and snow Week 4: Black - cold and snow Week 5: Dark brown with a black spot - possible ice storm! Week 6: Dark brown - cold Week 7: Dark brown - cold Week 8: Dark brown - cold Week 9: Dark brown - cold Week 10: Dark brown - cold Week 11: Dark brown - cold Week 12: Black - severe cold and snow Week 13: Black - severe cold and snow
On Sunday, Oct. 17, another 800 woolly worms were raced, with Li'l Bit, trained by Katherine Harrell of Elkin, winning the $500 prize. Harrell is an employee of Crossnore School Inc.
Festival attendees from as far away as Brisbane, Australia, enjoyed a variety of food and craft vendors.
A special kids' area included a climbing wall and inflatable bounce houses. Visitors could even ride up in the ladder fire truck for an aerial view of the festival from 75 feet up, thanks to Banner Elk Fire Department.
Banner Elk's Boy Scout Troop 807 pumped up the crowd with their dance-along to the "Cha Cha Slide."
Mr. Woolly Worm himself, Roy Krege, emceed the festival again this year. Krege was interviewed by phone on Saturday for National Public Radio's Weekend Edition show, which was broadcast on Sunday.
"The festival grows every year," Krege said, "and just gets better and better."
The Woolly Worm Festival is held the third weekend in October every year and brings an economic boost to the area. Funds raised benefit the youth of Avery County.
The festival is organized by the Avery County Chamber of Commerce, the Banner Elk Kiwanis Club and the Woolly Worm Festival Committee, and would not be possible without the efforts of these organizations and hundreds of volunteers.