BANNER ELK — This year’s Woolly Worm festival had to cancel its scheduled second day on Sunday, Oct. 21, due to high winds that devastated the festival grounds overnight, destroying a large number of vendor tents.
Avery County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melynda Pepple said weather has never forced a closure like this at the festival, and safety was the primary concern when the decision was made. No one was hurt during the wind storm.
Pepple estimated 35 to 40 percent of the vendors experienced losses due to the high winds.
“You literally couldn’t drive a golf cart through the festival grounds without experiencing debris,” Pepple said. “Of course we’re extremely disappointed, but we’re thankful nobody was hurt. Things can be replaced, people can’t.”
According to Pepple, high winds late into the night upended a number of booths, and by 7 a.m. festival officials had to make a determination on whether the festival could take place for the day. Following a great deal of consultation and discussion with multiple agencies, the decision was made to call off the Sunday activities.
The move to cancel was difficult, but Pepple explained that the safety of workers and guests was paramount, adding that officials explored the possibility of delaying the opening of the festival for several hours, but concluded that the move was not feasible due to the necessity and extensive nature of debris cleanup, a process that began early Sunday morning and lasted into the afternoon hours. During cleanup, a destroyed pile of tent components was collected near the main stage for disposal.
Despite the setback that took place for Sunday’s events, Pepple noted that the overall attitude of most vendors and individuals affected were overwhelmingly positive.
“I’d say 95 percent of the attitudes of vendors and those affected were very positive. An overwhelming majority of vendors and those affiliated with the festival were supportive and felt that we made the right decision,” Pepple added.
With the loss of the Sunday portion of the event, perhaps those most impacted are the organizations that benefit from the funds raised as a result of the festival each year through donations from Woolly Worm Festival funds. With only one day of the event completed, the effect of the cancellation could be a decreased amount of money available for distribution to area organizations than when the full two days of the festival are held.
“Today our community, our children, our schools and our nonprofits experience loss,” Pepple said. “This festival’s focus is always aimed toward our community and benefiting those nonprofits that we assist.”
The first day of the two-day festival was overcast with some light rain scattered throughout the day. Wind and precipitation had subsided to a gentle breeze by late afternoon that day, and the sky was perfectly blue. Late Saturday night, the National Weather Service issued a high wind warning for the counties of the High Country through noon Sunday.
Jamie Shell contributed reporting for this story