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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

Shadow or no shadow? French Creek Freddie’s star performance is back on at the West Virginia Wildlife Center

BUCKHANNON — Just one day after Governor Jim Justice announced that the annual Groundhog Day celebration at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center had been canceled, he said Thursday that the event is back on.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin worked out an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to allow the center to hold the event despite an ongoing shutdown that began more than a month ago, according to a press release from the senator’s office.

“After speaking with USDA Secretary Vilsack yesterday, I have been assured that French Creek Freddie will have the opportunity to look for his shadow tomorrow morning,” Manchin said Thursday. “Secretary Vilsack and I have remained friends since our time as governors and while we continue to work to fully re-open the WV Wildlife Center, I am excited to see that the festivities will proceed tomorrow and hope French Creek Freddie will not see his shadow, forecasting an early spring!”

The celebration is scheduled for Friday, February 2 with an opening ceremony at 9:50 a.m. French Creek Freddie will emerge at 10 a.m. to reveal whether an early spring is on the way or if winter will continue for another six weeks. Members of the public are invited to attend.

“Following the ceremony, guests are encouraged to take photos with French Creek Freddie, enjoy refreshments, and explore the State Wildlife Center,” according to a press release.

The event will also be live-streamed on YouTube.

In a press release, Justice said the wildlife center “obtained a one-day clearance from the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to open and host the 2024 Groundhog Day Ceremony.”

During a briefing Wednesday, Justice said the lack of a secondary containment fence is the reason for the indefinite closure of the wildlife center, which began on Dec. 28, 2023. Read more about the USDA’s revocation of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Class C Exhibitor license for the wildlife center in our previous story.

“Despite the challenges posed by the relicensing process, I am thrilled to announce that the West Virginia State Wildlife Center has received clearance to host our Groundhog Day celebration tomorrow,” Justice said. “We extend our gratitude to the USDA for their support. So I ask all West Virginians to join us as we mark this tradition tomorrow. We all look forward to reopening the Wildlife Center to the public soon.”

The DNR will “work with APHIS staff to complete the relicensing process as quickly as possible and will notify the public once the Wildlife Center has fully reopened to the public,” the release notes.

Updated at 11:15 a.m. Feb. 1 to add information from Gov. Jim Justice’s press release. The USDA has also responded to the closure. Read that story here.

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