Have you ever seen a luminously pale squirrel prowling around WNC? In our neck of the woods, this is a relatively common experience — so much so that these critters are an unofficial mascot of Brevard and the headliners of the city’s annual White Squirrel festival.
This Memorial Day weekend, these quirky creatures are top of mind as the White Squirrel Weekend returns to downtown Brevard with three days of live music, food, craft beverages, 75+ local vendors, and other squirrel-centric activities. The event kicks off the evening of Friday, May 26 and runs through the afternoon of Sunday, May 28.
But why so much hoopla for a pale squirrel? That’s because they’re incredibly rare. In fact, only a dozen spots in the country have white squirrel colonies. Unlike the more widespread albino squirrels, these squirrels are leucistic (meaning they have dark rather than pink eyes) and represent about one-third of Brevard’s total squirrel population. Moreover, Brevard’s white squirrels are especially exceptional due to their unique coat pattern.
There are several theories about how these squirrels arrived in Brevard, including this especially wacky tale about a pair escaping from a Florida carnival truck. However, the NC Cooperative Extension says that the squirrels are simply a “naturally occurring lighter colored variation” of the native grey squirrel.
In 1986, Brevard passed an ordinance establishing the city as a sanctuary for all squirrels, but especially the white ones, making it illegal to “hunt, kill, trap, or otherwise take any protected squirrels within the city.” Then in 1997, Brevard professor Robert Glesner founded The White Squirrel Institute, which researches and protects these local enigmas.
The first White Squirrel weekend took place nine years ago, and to this day, remains a quirky staple of WNC culture. Interested in attending the festival? Here are a few more helpful resources: