Dick Goddard Hosts Woollybear 40 with Famous Groundhog

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VERMILION, Ohio -- The 40th annual wild and wacky Woollybear Festival and parade was another huge success.

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

Despite a soggy start to the morning, scores of people lined the streets and surrounded the main stage as the Woollybear 500 caterpillar race got underway.

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

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

The day's events also included a human and pet woollybear costume contest.

*Click here for additional Woollybear photos, videos and extras!

Those who dressed up like a woollybear and entered the costume contest received a free t-shirt with this year’s Woollybear logo designed by Dick Goddard.

But one of Dick Goddard’s favorite events was the children’s foot race at the high school.

“Those little crawlers… I told them I have a six o’clock show on Monday so you’ll have to pick up the pace,” chuckled Mr. Goddard, "but it is so cute."

The Woollybear is the first event in the country created to celebrate a caterpillar, but four states have copied the idea.

The Woollybear has come a long way from its humble beginnings back 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 the 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 versus the computers,” he said.

This year another weather icon also travelled to Northeast Ohio from Pennsylvania. 

Punxsutawney Phil journeyed from Gobbler’s Nob to Vermilion to be grand marshal of the parade.

“He wants to know what’s going on with this winter so he can factor it in when he gives his prediction February 2nd,” said Lana Laughbaum, from GODOT Animal Sanctuary.

Lana is one of Phil’s caretakers.

“Phil is so excited to be in Vermilion,” said Laughbaum. “This is a famous festival and Dick Goddard’s a famous man.”

People were able to pet Punxsutawney Phil before a charming moment when Dick held Phil for the first time. 

The chubby groundhog must have been excited because he decided to relieve himself right then.

“Is that my five day forecast?” joked Goddard.

Despite the minor mess, the wonderful, free, family event continued as planned with the release of 30 homing pigeons to kick off the parade.

There was also mouth-watering food, exotic animals from Stump Hill Farm, thousands of musicians, floats, clowns and all of your friends on the Fox 8 News team.

Whether it was their first event or 40th, it seemed everyone had a good time.

“It’s something different and it's fun,” said Dwayne Kessie.

“We love the Woollybear Festival,” said Margo Hudson.

Only four people have been to every single Woollybear: Dick Goddard, Big Chuck & Little John and Neil Zurcher.

They say the kindness of people never gets old.

“People have been so good to me over the years,” said Goddard.

“It was his dream and it was a dream come true,” said Little John Rinaldi.

As the event wrapped up for the night, they hoped everyone had a good time and said see you next year, at Woollybear 41.