|A car show was part of the first White Squirrel Festival in 2004|
This year’s White Squirrel Weekend has started a new era
for spring downtown events, and so a retrospective seems in order. The downtown
festival, which traditionally was held on Memorial Day weekend, started in 2003.
The inaugural event kicked off with the unveiling of a white squirrel sculpture
outside of City Hall created by local artist Kathryn Wilson. The White Squirrel
Festival began as a street festival with events like a car show and developed
into a way to highlight local and regional musical talent. With each year, it
grew to incorporate new events and highlights.
Common features of the festival included vendors for
food, drink, and art; kids activities, a photography competition, and guided
tours to see the white squirrels that reside on Brevard College’s campus. The
event often aligned with downtown Brevard’s “4th Friday Gallery
Walks”, which would extend the hours of local art galleries for visitors. In
2007, the Squirrel Box Derby began and was held every year except 2015 until
the final run in 2018 when a tragic accident led to the decision to discontinue
2008 brought three new features to the festival: the
first being beer sales, the second being the Rotary Club sponsored 5K and 10K
races, and the third being a Memorial Day parade to honor fallen soldiers. At that time, there hadn’t been a Memorial Day
parade in over 25 years, though they were once a regular part of community
celebrations in bygone days. In partnership with the parade, memorial services
at one or more historic cemeteries followed by the opportunity to decorate grave
markers of fallen soldiers helped to remind the community of the ultimate
sacrifice made by service men and women. These memorial services were at times
led by the American Legion Post 88 and the Waightstill Avery chapter of the DAR.
To give everyone a chance to see a white squirrel, “Pisgah
Pete” was available for visitors during the festival from 2015-2019. This white
squirrel ambassador was known for his weather and Superbowl predictions that coincide
with Groundhog Day, though he recently retired and has passed the torch to his
niece, Pisgah Penny.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there was no festival in
2020 or 2021, making 2019 the last year of the festival in that iteration. The
decision to switch the festival to the weekend after Memorial Day weekend
provided an opportunity for reimagining what the festival’s focus would be and
to extend the number of weekends with happenings in downtown. The first annual
White Squirrel Weekend is now in the books as a brand-new conjunction of community,
culture, and fun.