FRENCH CREEK – On Saturday morning at the West Virginia Wildlife Center, the area’s most famous forecaster – and a somewhat rattled rodent – emerged from his toasty den to answer the question that’s been on the tip of so many tongues lately.
Will we have the luxury of enjoying an early spring or are we in for six more weeks of winter? Will we be graced with warm sunshine or showered with more snowflakes?
As it turns out, French Creek Freddie, the center’s resident groundhog prognosticator, saw his shadow Saturday morning, which means the region must weather six more weeks of winter.
The wildlife center welcomed hundreds of people Saturday, Feb. 2, as officials opened their doors for the annual Groundhog Day celebration to which people came to see Freddie’s prediction.
As legend has it, if a groundhog sees his shadow on Feb. 2, that indicates more winter weather is on the way; however, if a groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, spring could begin early.
Judy Channell, the secretary for the West Virginia Wildlife Center, said she wasn’t thrilled with Freddie’s forecast.
“I know some people that will be happy to hear we’re getting more winter,” Channell said, “but I am not one of them.”
“I know some people that will be happy to hear we’re getting more winter,” Channell said, “but I am not one of them.”-Judy Channell, Wildlife center secretary
Tyler Evans, wildlife biologist for the West Virginia Wildlife Center, said he also wasn’t too happy about the prediction.
“I’m not crazy about it,” Evans said. “It’s a lot like last year’s forecast, and I think like most people have probably had enough of winter. I’m ready for the spring, but we’ll take what we get, and that’s about all you can do.”
Notably, Freddie’s forecast clashed with the prediction of his famous cousin, Punxsutawney Phil, who signaled an early spring from up north in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania.
Even though Channell wasn’t too happy about Freddie’s forecast, she said she thought this year’s festival was a success.
“I think we had a pretty good crowd,” Channell said. “They showed a lot of enthusiasm, and the weather shaped up great for today, So I think everybody’s had a good time today.”
Before Freddie emerged from his hibernation, Channell announced that a new event had been added to Groundhog Day – the crowning of the prince and princess of Groundhog Day. Channell said the Wildlife Center partnered with Rock Cave Elementary school, and all fifth-grade students had written an essay about groundhogs.
Staff from the Department of Natural Resources read all of them and picked a boy and girl to be Groundhog Day royalty. Then, Hunter Barrett was named the prince of Groundhog Day, while Raynah Vaughn was named the princess of Groundhog Day.
Buckhannon mayor David McCauley said he wanted to address everyone to thank two special people for their contributions to the Groundhog Festival – Jo Ann and Glenn Hawkins.
“Glenn and Jo Ann have been instrumental to the success in [securing our] primary sponsors and supporters of such events and organizations as the annual Central Lions Clubs groundhog sausage and pancake breakfast, SUBA, the all-veterans memorial at the Y, the annual groundhog festival, the West Virginia Wildlife Center and the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department,” McCauley said.
McCauley presented Jo Ann and Glenn with the first Buckhannon-Upshur Community Unity Award and said there will be a Community Unity bench placed next to the city’s French Creek Freddie statue with a placard bearing the Hawkins’ names to honor the couple.
“I’m speechless,” Jo Ann Hawkins said. “This is very unexpected. We do what we do because we like to do it and support the community, and this is very nice … thank you very much.”
The band Enny Corner made an appearance to perform “Are you Ready for French Creek Freddie?” leading up to Freddie’s appearance with 7-year-old Baehr Fetty singing the lyrics. This year marked the sixth year the band has performed at the Groundhog Day celebration.