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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Coarsegold Tarantula Awareness Festival

Sep 30, 2019 11:00AM ● By Kayla Anderson

Itsy Bitsy Spider

October 2019
Story by Kayla Anderson

COARSEGOLD RESIDENT Diane Boland has never really been a fan of spiders. But soon after she ran over one with her car, her neighbor who saw it gave her an earful about how important tarantulas are to the Central Valley’s ecosystem. 

Now, more than 35 years later, Boland runs one of Coarsegold’s biggest events – the Tarantula Awareness Festival. Set for Oct. 26 from 10:30am-5pm, just in time for Halloween and tarantula mating season, the annual creepy-crawly inspired event invites locals and visitors to gather in California’s historic village for a day filled with kid-friendly fun, including a pumpkin bake-off, costume contest, hairy legs contest and the famed tarantula derby. While the Coarsegold Peddlers Fair held twice a year also provides an economical boost to the old mining town, nothing beats the annual Tarantula Awareness Festival. 

“It brings vitality into the town,” says Boland, who founded the event. She adds that between fires, droughts and harsh winters, events like the tarantula festival are important to keeping Coarsegold alive. 

After running over that California brown tarantula and Boland’s neighbor giving her a stern education on how important tarantulas are (as they eat other poisonous bugs, snakes and insects), Boland decided to take her new understanding of the hairy creatures and launch an awareness event, “and I thought this was a small thing that I could do for the kids in this town,” she adds. Residents were also in full support of celebrating the big, hairy spiders. 

“I’m not a big spider fan, but tarantulas get a bad rap. They are very docile except when backed into a corner and feel like they have no choice but to attack. Even then, they release less venom than a daddy longlegs,” she says. 

Boland started the Tarantula Awareness Festival in 1998 and now more than 1,000 people attend. Her goal has been to keep the festival free for kids, and she collects toys, candy and prizes all year long to give away at the event. Activities such as the costume contest are open to people of all ages and provide extra entertainment. 

“Last year we had 120 kids enter – they have to come on stage, state their name and what they are. At first kids are pretty shy, but then it gets to where we have to take the mic back from them,” Boland says with a laugh. 

Another favorite event is the adult hairy leg contest. “It’s really fun. We drag all the dads out and some moms come up, which is pretty scary, too,” she says. 

The festival celebrating the spiders is uniquely Coarsegold’s and offers a fun environment for people to reconnect, and it has slowly chipped away at Boland’s fear of tarantulas, she says. 

“I seriously have an absolute fear of picking them up, but I find that men are more afraid of them than women, which cracks me up,” she says. However, in hosting a tarantula derby, Boland will teach kids the proper way to pick them up as to not hurt them and how important it is to release them back into the wild afterwards, and that seems to dispel her anxiety about them a bit.  •

Coarsegold Tarantula Festival
Oct. 26, 10:30am-5pm • Free
Historic Village, Coarsegold • (559) 683-3900