ROCK CAVE – With his top hat nearly touching the ceiling, French Creek Freddie opened the fourth annual Groundhog Festival at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department on Friday.
The Freddie mascot appeared with Laura Meadows, the executive director of the Upshur County Convention and Visitors Bureau, to officially mark the beginning of the 2019 festival.
“This is such a fun event, and all the work that goes into it by everybody who’s donating their time and resources is really meaningful,” Meadows said. “I’m happy to be a part of this community and I’m happy to be able to raise my family in this community.”
Meadows said she hopes Freddie sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, meaning six more weeks of winter are on the way.
“I want more snow,” Meadows said. “I want a solid foot of snow at least once this year.”
A representative for Alex Mooney, Rhett Dusenbury, said Mooney regretted not being able to attend, but sent a letter.
“Thanks for the chance to address the fourth annual Groundhog Festival, celebrating our local expert weather forecaster, French Creek Freddie,” Dusenbury read. “He not only gives West Virginia national notoriety, but also helps stimulate the economy in the off season and often harsh winter months.”
The letter mentions the Rock Cave IGA and their famous ground “hog” sausage that has become a local delicacy over 25 years.
Glenn Hawkins, who owns the Rock Cave IGA, said they started offering the sausage in 1994 and that it only gets more popular every year.
“The first year we sold 600 pounds of sausage in one day, and it was 89 cents that year,” Hawkins said. “The next year we sold 800 pounds, and the next year we sold 1,600 pounds. When we got to selling 7,700 pounds of sausage in a day, my wife Jo Ann said, ‘You’re killing us, let’s make a three-day sale out of it.'”
So that’s exactly what they did, eventually lengthening the sale to a more than a week.
“Every year since we have started it has just kept growing, growing and growing, so in 2016 we sold 30,000 pounds in nine days,” Hawkins said. “Since the festival lasts two weekends this year, we decided to have the sale for two weeks, and we have about 30,000 pounds again so I hope we get rid of all of it.”
Jo Ann Hawkins, the co-chairperson for the Groundhog Festival, said she can smell the sausage throughout Rock Cave.
“You know how in Hershey they say everything smells like chocolate?” Jo Ann asked. “In Rock Cave, this time of year it smells like sausage.”
The stew that was available during the opening celebration contained some ground “hog” sausage, along with elk, antelope, rabbit, bear, chicken and venison. The “critter stew” made by Dale Hawkins was offered to everyone who attended the event.
“We have stew without some of the meat too,” Jo Ann Hawkins said. “But once you actually try the stew you’ll see how good it is, and people come back for it year after year.”
The opening event for this year’s Groundhog Festival also had an “open mic jam session” with Jerry Haymond.
The fun continues next weekend with a soup and sandwich dinner at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department on Friday from 4-6 p.m.
The main event is Saturday, when the real Freddie will emerge from his den to make his famous forecast at 10 a.m. The gates at the West Virginia Wildlife Center open at 9 a.m.
Here’s the full schedule: