French Creek Freddie emerges from his cozy den at the 2021 West Virginia Wildlife Center during a Groundhog Day celebration. / File photo courtesy Tyler Evert, West Virginia Department of Commerce/W.Va. Division of Natural Resources

French Creek Freddie event features fun new additions this year

FRENCH CREEK – French Creek Freddie is almost ready to emerge from his den and let the Upshur County community know whether we’re due for an early spring — or whether we need to bundle up for another six weeks of winter.

The West Virginia Wildlife Center invites everyone to greet their local groundhog celebrity on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2. The gates to the Wildlife Center will open at 8:30 a.m. and the Groundhog Day festivities will kick off at 9:30 a.m.

“Between 9:30 and 10 a.m., we have a small program where Freddie will come out and make his prediction,” West Virginia Wildlife Center biologist Trevor Moore told My Buckhannon. “After that, we’re going to have free hot chocolate and free cookies, as well as our wood chucking contest out by the gift shop. People are free to roam and see the Wildlife Center as much as they want. It’s the offseason, so admission is free.”

The 2022 celebration marks the first time Moore will experience a full Groundhog Day event at the Wildlfe Center. The 2021 Groundhog Day — the first after Moore’s hiring — was a scaled-down, private event due to COVID-19.

“We did very private showings last year because of COVID, where we had Freddie come out, he made his prediction and we released the result on social media,” Moore said. “I’m really excited because this my first year where we get to have the whole shebang.”

He said rousing Freddie for the day mimics a groundhog’s natural behavior and gives people the chance to see an animal that is usually reclusive.

“They’re definitely very solitary and very shy animals — this whole tradition came about because they are so solitary,” Moore said. “The early spring or very late winter rouses them from hibernation — coming out and looking for females and trying to find them to mate. Then they actually go back into hibernation until it warms up a little bit.”

The West Virginia Wildlife Center is also partnering with French Creek Elementary School and the Upshur County Pulbic Library for the first time.

“We’re going to have French Creek’s choir come and sing some songs, and the library is putting on a drawing contest for which we’re providing specimens that they’re coloring and drawing, as well as some prizes for that,” Moore said. “We’re looking to expand it, so hopefully we can do some more fun activities next year.”

Groundhog Day is an excellent opportunity to visit the Wildlife Center in the offseason and enjoy some family-friendly outdoor activities, Moore said.

“I think it’s a really fun, unique event. We don’t have a lot of things like this, especially during the winter, where people can really get out and hopefully see some fun animals. It’s a very family-friendly, relaxing trip. Since everyone has been cooped up lately with the cold weather, it’s a good chance to get out and get moving.”

Moore encouraged guests to visit some of the other active animals while they are at the center.

“People should definitely go check out the mountain lions and the wolves; they’re pretty close to the amphitheater and they will be most likely out and about,” Moore said. “Our wolves have been having a great time with their first snow. The otters will definitely not be out because their pool was drained, so they’re back in their habitat. I would not suggest going down by the otters and the snakes, but pretty much everything else should be out and about.”

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