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Luna Flores shows off her Derby winner, Aragog (photos by Sarah Jackson)

22nd Annual Tarantula Festival Connects Community with Arachnids

By Sarah Jackson

Special to Sierra News Online

COARSEGOLD — The 22nd Annual Tarantula Festival, held this past weekend at the Historic Village, featured a day of fun, food and fuzzy spiders.

The pizza-eating contest at this weekend’s Tarantula Festival

Hosting the wholesome, educational community event seems to be a labor of love for Coarsegold Historic Village owner Diane Boland.

“The kids here today are the children of kids who came to the Tarantula Festival in the beginning. And to me, that’s community!” Boland said.

She sees the event as an opportunity to teach “a respect for nature, a respect for others, and a chance to be brave!”

Boland described the transformation she sees each year at the festival as children and adults lose their fear of tarantulas and interact with each other in a healthy way.

“If you look around here, you don’t see kids just (using electronic devices) – they’re running around having fun, making friends and learning.”

Attendance and parking at the event are free.

Coarsegold Elementary students set up a fundraising booth asking for donations to fund a field trip, to which several drivers happily contributed. A costume contest was sponsored by Village Merchants. And the pizza eating contest was sponsored by Oakhurst Round Table Pizza.

The Tarantula Festival even had a local volunteer entomologist, Carolyn Agrifoglio. She was on hand to answer questions and ensure proper handling. She is a retiree from the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Prizes for the winners of contests such as Pumpkin Decorating, Tarantula Poems, Hairiest Legs, and Kids’ and Pets’ Costume were generously donated by local businesses.

Richard and Diane Boland sponsored the prize for the grand finale event: The Live Tarantula Derby.

Luna Flores, a kindergarten student at Rivergold Elementary, won the Tarantula Derby with her furry friend, Aragog. She found him with her parents near their Coarsegold home just before the Tarantula Festival with the goal of entering him into the Derby. The family released Aragog after the festivities of the day.

The Live Tarantula Derby is perhaps the most anticipated event of the day. Children hold their hairy arachnids in their hands as they sit at one end of a long tube.

When Diane Boland calls “ready, set, go,” the children release their racing spiders into the tube and gently blow on them to encourage proper direction. The first Tarantula to appear at the end of a tube is deemed the winner.

This year’s festival-goers enjoyed beautiful weather and a family and budget-friendly event.

“It’s a lot of work for sure, but I love the sense of community,” Boland said.

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