September 30, 2014

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Photo gallery: ‘Typical’ winter predicted at this year’s Woollybear Festival

Dear Mr. President, you may not want to suspend your re-election campaign, but you appear to have secured the woolly bear bump.

A caterpillar named after President Barack Obama beat a caterpillar named after Republican challenger Mitt Romney by a landslide — about a foot to be precise — at the annual Woollybear Festival on Sunday in Vermilion. While Obama crawled steadily down the track, Romney started slowly and moved leftward. Really.

“The election has been settled,” said Dick Goddard, festival founder and Fox 8 meteorologist. “We don’t have to go to through those lying political ads anymore.”

More photos below.

The race preceded the Woollybear 500 — a race featuring caterpillars caught by children – and Goddard’s weather prediction, the culmination of the annual festival. Each year thousands jam downtown to view a parade and the Woollybear King and Queen costume judging and hear bands.

They also can visit dozens of booths featuring clothing, food and jewelry. Roughly 150,000 people attended Sunday’s festival, according to Heather McCord, executive assistant for the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce.

The festival, which helps raise money for area nonprofit groups, began in Birmingham in 1972 to raise money for Firelands-Florence Township Elementary School. Outgrowing Birmingham because of its popularity, the festival moved to Vermilion in 1981.

The concept behind the festival was that the thickness of the coat of a woolly bear — a caterpillar with woolly hairs — would predict the winter weather. Goddard said last year’s prediction of a moderate winter was inaccurate because a volcano in Iceland led to a very mild winter.

Goddard said this year’s winter will be more typical barring another volcano, but he added a caveat.

“Always remember, Mother Nature bats last,” he said. “So when you think you’ve got it made, you are probably dead wrong.”

Prior to the prediction, a caterpillar named Pauly D — the nickname of a “Jersey Shore” reality show cast member — won the Woollybear 500 with 8-year-old handler/jockey Haley Faiken of Vermilion winning a $50 gift card.

“She was determined,” said Misty Faiken, Haley’s mother. “We were in the finals last time and we didn’t make it past the first heat.”

Pauly D’s road to victory began on Darrow Road last week where he narrowly avoided becoming road kill, said Paul Faiken, Haley’s father. The Faikens were in their car headed downhill at about 55 mph when they spotted the caterpillar. “We happened to see off the corner of our eye and stopped and grabbed it,” he said.

The run-up to the race and prediction included traditional banter between festival co-hosts and former WJW-TV 8 television personalities “Big Chuck” Schodowski and “Lil’ John” Rinaldi.

“It’s still exciting (after) 40 years,” Rinaldi said.

“You don’t have a life though,” said Schodowski.

Rinaldi said he was skeptical when Goddard first pitched the idea of a festival.

“I looked at him and I go, ‘Are you kidding me? A little bug, you’re going to race down this thing?” Rinaldi recalled.

He remembered Goddard told him, “Everybody can have a good time and they don’t have to spend any money,” Rinaldi said to applause from the hundreds of people who packed the area around the main stage for the race and prediction.

Goddard said after the festival that he hopes to continue the tradition to give a boost to Vermilion and help raise awareness of spaying and neutering cats and dogs and adopting strays.

“I’m just happy to help,” he said. “I’m glad they let us do it.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

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