When Punxsutawney Phil waddles out Saturday to glory in Groundhog Day, the mountain town of Brevard will summon its own harbinger of spring: A squirrel. A white squirrel.
Pisgah Pete is among the hundreds of white squirrels that call Brevard home. The town hasn’t let that go unnoticed, hosting the White Squirrel Festival, the White Squirrel Shoppe and a White Squirrel page on the website of Heart of Brevard, a downtown revitalization program.
“They’re darned cute, and people are fascinated by them,” said Katy Rosenberg, director of the, yep, White Squirrel Institute. “I’m always amazed at how many visitors ask about where to find the white squirrels.”
The answer is, just about everywhere you look, from the Brevard College campus to Rosenberg’s backyard. Forty percent of all squirrels in Brevard were white, according to the last full count in 2011.
Pisgah Pete will star at Saturday morning’s White Squirrel Day in downtown Brevard, where he will forecast both whether there will be six more weeks of winter and the Super Bowl winner. Pete has picked the NFL champion for four years in a row, his handlers say.
“We are so proud of Pete and his truly amazing ability to predict the Super Bowl winners,” Mayor Jimmy Harris, who will be on hand, told The Transylvania Times. “The event has grown each year due to his outstanding accuracy.”
The event will be broadcast live on WSQL radio and live-streamed, just like Punxsutawney Phil, at whitesquirrelday.com, the Times reported.
The event has a serious purpose. Rosenberg, who took over the White Squirrel Institute from Heart of Brevard a month ago, wants to restart an annual count of the squirrels that Brevard College biologist Robert Glesener, who has since died, began in 1997. The last, partial count was done in 2012.
The White Squirrel Institute also aims to raise money for area wildlife rehabilitators who nurse injured and orphaned squirrels and other animals.
Brevard’s white wonders aren’t true albinos with pink or blue eyes. They have dark eyes but white coats, often with darker patches on the head or back.
They trace back to an overturned circus truck in Florida in 1949. A pair of white squirrels escaped were caught and given to family members who moved to Brevard, where one escaped and the other was let go.
Those squirrels bred with wild Eastern gray squirrels, and a phenomenon was born.