VERMILION — Pam Cooper has been involved with Vermilion’s famous Woollybear Festival for 17 years, and it still amazes her that people continuously ask her the same question.
“What is a woolly bear? I hear it all the time,” said Cooper, acting president of the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce. “They can’t believe an entire festival is focused on a caterpillar.”
However, 35 years ago, television weatherman Dick Goddard of Fox 8 came up with the idea of doing just that. Goddard thought it would be cool to stage a festival around the folklore that the woolly bear caterpillar could forecast what kind of winter is ahead.
The first Woollybear Festival was held in nearby Birmingham in 1972 and attracted about 2,000 people. Each year the festival grew and grew until it outgrew the little town and needed a new home. That’s when Vermilion became the host city for what is today the largest one-day festival in Ohio.
And through it all, the woolly bear, known in scientific circles as an Isabella tiger moth larva, has not lost its mystic. Gary Gerrone, a naturalist with the Lorain County Metro Parks, said people still believe the folklore that they can tell the severity of the winter based on the composition of the fuzzy caterpillar that grows to about the size of a pinky finger.
“The front and back ends are black, but the center is darker orange or light brownish in color. And, legend states that if the majority of the animal is orange, we can expect a mild winter. But if the animal is mostly black, a rough winter is ahead,” Gerrone said. “Around here that’s all we need. As soon as a woolly bear is spotted, everyone is quick to check out its color."
The Woollybear Festival starts at 9 a.m. Sunday.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.