The Transylvania Times -

By Matthew McGregor
Staff Writer 

Pisgah Pete Set To Predict, Squirrel Count Returning


Last updated 1/30/2019 at 4:20pm

Courtesy Photo

Pisgah Pete

Brevard's white squirrel ambassador, Pisgah Pete, returns this Saturday to predict whether there will be six more weeks of winter, but have you ever wondered how many white squirrels there really are in Brevard?

People see them scurrying about, dodging cars (sometimes), hanging out in trees and living free, but since they don't register to vote, pay taxes or have Facebook accounts, their numbers remain unknown.

However, Katy Rosenberg, director of the White Squirrel Institute (WSI), wants to change that, and, according to her, they are more organized than they appear.

"There are 35 sectors of white squirrels within the original city limits," she said.

A white-squirrel sector is defined as the area, or radius, from which they store their food.

"They remember where they hide their nuts, so they stay within the radius of that sector. So, a squirrel in sector 35 won't be found in sector one," she said.

The white squirrel sector mapping comes from the founder of the White Squirrel Research Institute and the White Squirrel Count, Robert Glesener, who was a professor of biology and zoology at Brevard College for 26 years before he passed away at 66 in 2013.

His last count was in 2011.

"I believe that Brevard's population has both the highest percent white (approximately 4 of every 10 squirrels) and abundance (1,000 white squirrels) of any known colony," he wrote. "The 1,000 estimate comes from estimates of total squirrel abundance using a strip census or line transect... multiplied by the percent white as determined by the annual squirrel count."

Rosenberg said Glesener saw value in white squirrels "not just environmentally, but financially."

"He thought it was important to count the squirrel population to see if they are decreasing or increasing, so it started with him doing a white squirrel count," she explained. "My goal is to reactivate this count, whether it be this year or the next."

Glesener helped fund the project through white squirrel adoptions.

"That's a project the Heart of Brevard picked up and they do that every year at the White Squirrel Festival," she said. "Now, I'm taking over, and I've set up a website at, where you can adopt a white squirrel or make donations."

She said donation and adoption funds aren't just for conservation or preservation of white squirrels, but to raise money for the "unsung heroes" of wildlife rehabilitation.

"When an animal gets hit in the road, who do you call?" she asked.

Transylvania County wildlife rehabilitators listed on Rosenberg's website include Jennifer Burgin, who rehabilitates squirrels, Steve O'Neil, who rehabilitates small mammals and reptiles, and Jeanette Schmitt, who rehabilitates birds.

In fact, Pisgah Pete was rescued by Susan Bieker, a bookkeeper at Moody-Connelly Funeral Home.

She found Pete after he had fallen out of a tree, and he was later rehabilitated by Burgin.

"I thought that this might be a good way to help raise money for them, since everything comes out of their pocket," Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg established WSI under the Community Focus Foundation (CFF) of Transylvania County.

According to the CFF's website, the foundation is a collection of funds established by civic-minded people to meet a wide range of community development needs now and in the future," and it "allows for maximum tax deductions for charitable gifts," "serves as a bridge between the donor and the community," and "provides monies that assist others in addressing needs and improving our quality of life."

"Basically, it allows people such as myself who want to set up a charity, but not going to set up a 501(c)(3), since I'm a foundation of one right now," she said. "It's a way for me to collect legitimately, so people feel comfortable in donating to a legitimate charity, and they can, if they want, make a tax deductible donation, and through the foundation, I have the ability to facilitate that for them."

In addition to raising awareness and funds for the white squirrel population count and local wildlife rehabilitators, Rosenberg said, bringing more publicity to the white squirrel population will bring more attention to Brevard.

"Recently, someone contacted me saying she saw a white squirrel at the White House," Rosenberg said. "She didn't know Brevard had white squirrels. She just Googled it and found me, and I told her about Brevard, the White Squirrel Festival, White Squirrel Day and the count, and she was like, 'Oh my gosh, my family and I would love come to Brevard.' So, I just kind of think this whole project resonated with me. I think this might be an extra way to bring a spotlight back to Brevard and our white squirrel population."

Rosenberg will be representing the White Squirrel Institute at the 5th Annual White Squirrel Day in Brevard at 9 a.m. on Saturday at the Blue Ridge Bakery on 86 W. Main St.

According to a WSI press release, "Brevard's beloved ambassador white squirrel, Pisgah Pete, will take the helm at the city's Feb. 2, 2019, Groundhog Day festivities in an event dubbed by local residents, 'White Squirrel Day.'"

"The event's organizers say the town's cute furry mascot will outshine his world-famous weather-prognosticating counterpart, Punxsutawney Phil, by not only predicting whether there will be six more weeks of winter, but also predicting the winner of the Super Bowl," stated the press release. "For four years in a row, Pisgah Pete has accurately predicted the winner of the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy."

"We are so proud of Pete and his truly amazing ability to predict the Super Bowl winners," said Brevard Mayor Jimmy Harris. "The event has grown each year due to his outstanding accuracy."

"Punxsutawney Phil has never been known for the accuracy in his predictions," said Ann Sharpsteen, the event's organizer. "Nor is he known for his cuteness, whereas, as you can see, Pete has cuteness in spades."

Harris will be on hand at the event to read a proclamation officially memorializing the day as "White Squirrel Day" in Brevard.

WSQL radio personality Don Debiase will officiate the ceremony (top hat and all) during a live broadcast on the town's "White Squirrel" radio station (102.1 FM, 1240 AM).

The event will also be video-live-streamed on the newly launched White Squirrel Day website,

News and information related to giveaways and promotions will be posted on the website leading up to the event.


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