Unlike the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti or Bigfoot, white squirrels are not legendary creatures. They can be found, and photographed, in Brevard and other locations in Transylvania County.
To spot them, because of its park-like landscape, the Brevard College campus in downtown is a popular location. Other good viewing spots in Brevard include the Silvermont grounds on East Main Street, Franklin Park, which is literally a couple of minutes away from Silvermont on Lakeview Avenue, and South Broad Park.
A high concentration may also be found north and east of Brevard Elementary School on Warren and Bluebird lanes and in McCrary Acres, and the general area between Elm Bend Road and Outland Avenue.
The area southwest of the Brevard Post Office is another good spot, while areas outside Brevard, such as in the Pisgah Forest community, are becoming increasingly populated with white squirrels.
Two questions may come to mind about the creatures: why are they white, and how did they get here?
Brevard’s white squirrels are not albinos. They have brown eyes rather than pink ones. Researchers found that the lack of pigment is caused by a recessive genetic defect.
The origin of the white squirrels being here makes for an interesting story. Resident Barbara Mull Lang remembers when she was 10 years old, several decades ago, that her uncle visited Brevard and brought with him two white squirrels.
A man called M.M. Black had given her uncle the squirrels after he helped to catch them in Black’s pecan grove. The animals had apparently escaped from a carnival truck.
Lang said she took care of the squirrels and later left them with her grandfather when her family moved away from Brevard.
But one of the squirrels escaped, and her grandfather felt so sorry for the other one that he released it into the wild.
The city of Brevard has passed an ordinance protecting the little critters, and a music festival is held in their honor every year during the Memorial Day weekend. Another tradition has seen Pisgah Pete, the festival’s white squirrel mascot, turn his talents each February to predicting whether there will be an early spring, which Pete predicted this year. Pete has come a long way after having his jaw broken and suffering a significant head injury a few years ago. Today, thanks to wildlife rehabilitator Jennifer Burgin, Pete attends the festival, makes his predictions and goes to schools for educational programs.
To know how many white squirrels there are in Brevard, the White Squirrel Institute, which also organizes Pisgah Pete’s prediction, keeps track of them by breaking up the city into 35 sectors. A white squirrel sector is defined as the area, or radius, from which they store their food. More about the institute and its work may be found at www.whitesquirrelinstitute.org.