FRENCH CREEK – Any day spent at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center is a great day but today, Sunday, Feb. 2 was an especially wonderful day. Not only did more than 400 folks from across the country gather to celebrate Groundhog Day, but it is also a special day for those who enjoy football and watch the Super Bowl.
Ahead of Sunday’s 6 p.m. Super Bowl, French Creek Freddie made his prognostication – that the area is in for an early spring – which put smiles on the faces of many folks in north central West Virginia.
At the stroke of 10 a.m. those gathered to see French Creek Freddie emerge from his den were wrapped in down coats, boots, hats, sweaters and gloves to ward off the low 30-degree temperatures and the up to 17 mph winds, which made it feel even colder. Freddie left the warmth of his burrow, looked around and did not see his shadow, a sign of his prediction of an early Spring.
Over the years of his prediction, Freddie’s predictions have been spot-on approximately 60 percent of the time.
Looking at the weather prediction, Monday is slated to be partly cloudy with temperatures reaching into the mid-60s, followed by at least three more days of unseasonably warm temperatures.
Before French Creek Freddie made his appearance, Judy Channell, secretary for the West Virginia State Wildlife Center, welcomed those gathered for the ‘Super’ Groundhog Day Sunday and helped the French Creek Freddie Mascot hand out some special awards.
Awards were issued to Brent Helmick, who traveled from California for Sunday’s festivities, making him the attendee who traveled the longest distance to attend. The youngest at Sunday’s celebration was four-month-old Gabriel Ware and the oldest attendee was 82-year-old Eugene Cowger. Those celebrating a birthday this Groundhog Day received a hug and a birthday card from the French Creek Freddie mascot.
West Virginia State Wildlife Center Biologist Tyler Evans said French Creek Freddie has been making his Groundhog Day weather predictions since 1978.
“It began as an afterthought, really, but next thing you knew, French Creek Freddie became what he is know as today,” Evans shared with those gathered. “We are happy to be able to offer this at the time of year when there is not too much going on.”
Evans began a 10-second count down as Freddie showed his cute face and Evans declared, “French Creek Freddie did not see his shadow,” adding the area will have an early spring.
“Today was very well-attended,” Evans said. “We always have very good attendance when Groundhog Day is on the weekend. This year we were very optimistic, even though the forecast predicted a snowstorm and rain yesterday. Fortunately, we avoided the snow and have had a great turnout today, and we are excited to be able to offer this and get folks out of their homes during this time of the year when there are not many reasons to go outside. We were very happy to be able to celebrate Groundhog Day – it has been a successful event for us.”
Evans said Punxsutawney Phil gave his prediction earlier in the day than French Creek Freddie.
“He called for an early spring as well,” Evans said. “They are pretty well in sync on this one. Hopefully, West Virginia and Pennsylvania are in store for some better weather.”
Channell said she was pleased with the turnout.
“I was concerned because the weather forecast called for three inches of snow, but we didn’t receive that,” Channell said. “But the folks who come out for this celebration are ‘die-hard.’ They want to see Freddie and they want to know what the deal is, so they come out.”
Emma, a sixth-grade student at Robert L. Bland in Weston, read the book, ‘Ground Hog Gets a Say,’ by Pamela Curtis Swallow. The story said that groundhogs like French Creek Freddie are sometimes called whistle pigs and woodchucks.
This is the 43rd year for the Annual Groundhog Day Celebration at the West Virginia Wildlife Center and activities included visiting with French Creek Freddie, photos with the French Creek Freddie mascot, hot chocolate and cookies, activity sheets for the kids and a wood chuckin’ contest.
French Creek Freddie was assisted by wildlife technician and handler Dave Linger, who cares for and feeds the animals.
The days events continued with the Groundhog Festival held at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department in Rock Cave and included arts and crafts, food served by the Aletha Chapter 82 and live music featuring Big Ed Crawford & the Strumalongs.
The Groundhog Festival continues on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 7, 8 and 9 and includes a freewill soup-and-sandwich event, music by the Joyful Servants, a meet-and-greet for the southern Upshur County Firefighters, a Relay for Life social, live music with Steve Peters, the Forgiven Disciples and the Shelter, a gospel sing at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church and live music featuring Soldiers of the Cross, Praying for a Change and the Shelter.
The West Virginia State Wildlife Center’s next event is June 20, 2020, celebrating West Virginia Day. ‘Talking Turkey’ with the Stonewall Jackson Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federations, will include education activities, games and birthday cake from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Channell said she hopes folks come out and visit the West Virginia Wildlife Center and attend their special events.
The West Virginia State Wildlife Center is located at 163 Wildlife Road in French Creek. Additional information is available on Facebook or by calling 304-924-6211.