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In this photo from 2019, a shadow falls on French Creek Freddie, as he pauses to contemplate the ramifications of his prediction that there were six more weeks of winter on the way.

French Creek Freddie set to make his seasonal prediction on Super Bowl Sunday

ROCK CAVE – The fifth annual weeklong Groundhog Festival kicks off this Friday, Jan. 31 with the opening ceremony and plenty of critter stew being served up at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department.

The opening ceremony will begin at 4:15 p.m. followed by a potluck dinner with critter stew made by Fish Hawk Acres owner and chef Dale Hawkins.

“In the past there has been bear, venison, rabbit, groundhog, corn, potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots, celery and tomatoes,” Hawkins said. “So far this year, I’m thinking there might be elk, bear and venison, and that’s all I know so far.”

The festival continues Saturday, Feb. 1 with breakfast hosted by members of the Central Upshur Lions Club, who will be serving pancakes and biscuits and gravy with ‘groundhog’ sausage from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will also be a craft show set up from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the ‘groundhog’ sausage cook-off will kick off at 2 p.m. and end at 4 p.m.

Denton “Buzz” King Family and Friends will be performing live music during the cookoff.

Sunday, Feb. 2 is the 43rd annual Groundhog Day, and doors to the West Virginia Wildlife Center open at 9 a.m. with free admission; the celebration will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the amphitheater where there will be music until 10 a.m.

At precisely 10 a.m., French Creek Freddie will emerge and make his prediction about whether six more weeks of winter are on their way (if he sees his shadow) or if spring is right around the corner (if he does not see his shadow). Regardless of the outcome, secretary of the Wildlife Center Judy Channel said there will be hot chocolate and cookies available afterwards in the gift shop.

She also said the wood chucking contest will happen as usual, but in honor of Super Bowl Sunday, they added a football theme to the contest.

“The Super Bowl doesn’t start until the evening, so you have time to come out, enjoy the groundhog celebration, maybe some of the festival activities, then you can be home with plenty of time to get into your chair to watch the big game,” Channel said. “We did have the guys build some goalposts they’re putting out there, so instead of just chucking the piece of wood it’s going to be so you can put it through the goalpost.”

The wood chucking contest will have age groups and several prizes for the winners.

Channel said French Creek Freddie has been accurate with his forecasts about half the time.

“Last year, he was actually wrong, because he saw his shadow when the sun came out at literally the very last minute, but we didn’t have much winter,” Channel said. “In February, we only had 4.6 inches of snow and a little even in March, and we know this because the Wildlife Center is an official observation station for the National Weather Service out of Charleston.”

She said out of the 22 years they have data for, the furry prognosticator has been correct 11 times and wrong 11 times – but Freddie also doesn’t compete with other groundhogs, such as Punxsutawney Phil.

“Freddie doesn’t consider Phil competition,” she said. “They’re cousins, distant cousins and they predict different areas. “The weather forecast for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania could be quite different than in French Creek, West Virginia.”

From noon to 4p.m. the Aletha Chapter 82 will be serving food at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department, and there will be another craft show. Starting at 1 p.m., Big Ed Crawford and the Strumalongs will play music.

The last weekend of the festival starts Feb. 7 with a meet-and-greet with southern Upshur County firefighters and support personnel, freewill soup and sandwiches and live music from the Joyful Servants at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department from 4 to 6 p.m.

On Feb. 8, Upshur County Relay for Life will host a social with food, a bake sale and a cake walk with live music from Steve Peters, The Forgiven Disciples and The Shelter from 2 to 5 p.m.

The last day of the festival, Feb. 9, will feature live music from Soldiers of the Cross, PFC –Praying for Change and The Shelter at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church at 2 p.m.

Channel said the Groundhog Festival Committee is always looking for more people to participate in the festival during the planning phases, and those interested can visit the Groundhog Festival of Rock Cave, WV Facebook page.

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