2019 Woolly Worm champion, 2020 event canceled

Mary Jo Brubaker, William Burrow, Shawn Stricklen, Bobby Savel, Merryweather The Woolly Worm, Jason DeWitt, Melynda Pepple, Leslee Brown, Tommy Burleson, Daniel Binder and Brittany Love posing after Brown’s worm ‘Wild Worm Will’ claimed the top prize at the 2019 Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival. Officials have announced that the 2020 festival, slated for the third weekend in October, has been canceled due to ongoing concerns in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

BANNER ELK — The Woolly Worm Festival, an autumn staple in the High Country annually since 1978, has been canceled for 2020 due to concerns related to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, according to a release from festival committee Chair Mary Jo Brubaker on July 31.

“It is with deep sadness that the 2020 Woolly Worm Festival of Banner Elk has been canceled,” the release stated. “This is not a decision the Woolly Worm Board of Directors has taken lightly. Every year, profits from the festival are given back to our community to enhance the lives of children and to promote business and tourism in Avery County. Local businesses and organizations also benefit from festival visitors to our community.”

Consideration for the safety of attendees, staff and other participants was paramount in making the move to not host the festival onsite at its location in front of the Historic Banner Elk School in the heart of downtown Banner Elk, where thousands of attendees gather for the event to race worms, raise funds for charitable institutions and determine the forecast for the coming High Country winter by the shades of the winning woolly worm.

“After careful consideration and guidance from local and state agencies, as well as the boards of directors from the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk and the Avery County Chamber of Commerce, the decision was made to cancel this year’s onsite Woolly Worm Festival on Oct. 17 and 18. We know it’s the right decision based on the information we have today,” the release added. “Your safety comes first, and we’re grateful to all who planned to be a part of this year’s Woolly Worm Festival, and who have made it a fall tradition since 1978. We hope you’ll join us when the festival returns to Banner Elk in 2021.”

Although the festival itself will not be held in person this fall, the committee still intends to shine a bright spotlight on its many vendors and continue making a positive impact on the community the festival uplifts and benefits.

“In the meantime, the Woolly Worm Festival Board of Directors will be developing a link from our website to many of our vendors so that you will still be able to support and purchase some of their wonderful handicrafts online. The board is also working on a way to decide which Woolly Worm will determine this winter’s weather forecast with virtual online races,” the release noted. “Plans are being made for a way that children can interact with Merryweather online. Please continue to check our Woolly Worm website at www.woollyworm.com, the Avery Chamber website at www.averycounty.com and the Woolly Worm Facebook page for further details as plans develop.”

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