40th Annual Woollybear Fest Preps Underway

VERMILION, Ohio — Preparations are underway for the 40th Annual Woollybear festival and parade.

Each year Fox 8 Meteorologist Dick Goddard hosts the huge event in downtown Vermilion, Ohio.

It’s the first event in the country created to celebrate a caterpillar and for four decades Mr. Goddard has been making people smile, laugh and dress themselves and their pets like caterpillars.

The events become the largest single day event in the state of Ohio with over 100,000 people attending last year alone.

“I had no idea it would become this big,” said Dick Goddard.

He says, no one did, especially considering how it all began in 1973 in the small hamlet of Birmingham.

The community was looking for a PTA fundraiser and Mr. Goddard was hoping to start a weather related festival.

He settled on Woollybear caterpillar after careful consideration.

“The groundhog’s the most famous animal to tell us when winter will end.” Said Dick, “I figured we needed an animal on the other end.”

According to legend, the size of the stripe determines the harshness of the winter ahead.

A lot of orange predicts a mild winter, while a little line forewarns severe conditions.

Mr. Goddard says the predictions made over the years with the caterpillars have been remarkably accurate. 

“Caterpillars have won many times verses the computers.”

Pat Zaleski’s a founding member of the parade.

She says, “We had no idea how to do a festival.”

The first parade was so small the front of the parade met the back of the parade.

“One of my favorite stories is for some reasons an 18 wheeler got into the parade and the look on the guys face was like what kind of cult is this,” said Dick Goddard.

For eight years it continued in Birmingham and there’s even a Woollybear Diner, but Dick says the event eventually outgrew the tiny hamlet.

“The church in Birmingham kicked us out said you’re interfering with Sunday events so we put it up for grabs,” said Dick.

Nineteen communities wanted it but they settled on Vermilion.

“Vermilion’s very lucky,” said Sandy Grisel.

Sandy’s mom was one of the founding members and is now the executive director at the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce.

She says, “It’s a wonderful free event for kids and family.”

September 30th the magic will return.

This year the parade will kick off with the release 30 homing pigeons, and a world famous, weather superstar as grand marshal. Punxsutawny Phil will be traveling from PA with his female groundhog companion Phyllis. The daylong event kicks off with the children’s footrace and then Woollybear 500 caterpillar race. There will be mouthwatering food, exotic animals, thousands of musicians, floats, clowns and all of your friends on the Fox 8 news team.

Also, people who dress up like a Woollybear and enter the costume contest will receive a free t-shirt with this year’s Woollybear log.

Each year Dick Goddard, who is an incredible artist, designs the logos.

“This one is gonna be a good one.”

Over the past 40 years 6 songs have been written about the festival and 4 states have copied the idea.

And the show always goes on despite in climate weather conditions.

The date for the event is chosen based on the Browns schedule and not the calendar.

“For 43 years I’ve done stats for the Cleveland Browns so we don’t want to interfere with attendance at the Browns game,” said Dick.

Mr. Goddard is proud to point out that there has never been a fight or any controversy at the daylong event.

He says, whether it’s your first event or 40th, you are guaranteed to have a good time at the family friendly free festival and parade.

“I always tell people if you don’t like the event you’ll get your money back,” said Dick.

Click here for more on the 40th anniversary of Woollybear.