FRENCH CREEK - Dozens of groundhog enthusiasts ventured out to Upshur County's West Virginia Wildlife Center Sunday to see what the area's favorite furry prognosticator had to say about a change in seasons.
And French Creek Freddie did not disappoint: the regionally famous groundhog poked his head out to predict an early spring.
Prior to Freddie's debut, the crowd waited patiently, weathering the smattering of rain and cool temperatures, to see if the groundhog would see his shadow.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Chad Clem
French Creek Freddie comes out of his house to make a prediction Sunday morning at the West Virginia Wildlife Center. Freddie did not see his shadow, which means that area residents will enjoy an early spring. Despite the cold, rainy weather, many Groundhog Day enthusiasts made the trek to French Creek to pay Freddie a visit.
According to legend, if Freddie sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter, but if he doesn't see his shadow, then an early spring is said to be on its way.
Some members of the audience believed that due to the overcast sky, Freddie would bring good news of an early spring.
"Freddie isn't going to see his shadow," 10-year-old Harley Francis, one of Freddie's many first-time visitors, said before the ceremony. "He won't see his shadow because of the weather."
After the crowd joined in a round of singing "Country Roads" and other West Virginia-themed tunes, the countdown began.
Finally, Freddie was unleashed and the crowd waited in heightened anticipation for his prediction.
Then it was announced: Freddie did not see his shadow - there would be an early spring.
The crowd cheered and headed back into the Wildlife Center gift shop and restaurant for hot chocolate and cider.
"This is a great event and something we at the Wildlife Center have been proud to be a part of since 1978," said Rob Silvester, wildlife biologist. "This is something that so many people will remember for the rest of their lives. We had a group of grandparents last year who had come to see Freddie when they were young, had brought their children to see him and then had brought their grandchildren to visit Freddie. Three generations had come here and shared the experience, and that's just remarkable."
When asked about Freddie's accuracy in regard to his weather prognostication, Silvester said that it all depends on the interpretation.
"Last year, Freddie got 'fricasseed,' if you will, because he predicted an early spring, and it ended up being one of the coldest Marches to ever hit the area," Silvester said. "But we did have one day that was in the 70s, so in my mind, I interpret that as an early spring."
Regardless of his accuracy, Freddie will continue to have visitors for years to come, like 5-year-old Ella Barnett who said that she would "definitely come back to see Freddie" again.
"This isn't about science, per se, as much as it is about folklore and culture," Silvester said. "It works in the same way that farmers are able to predict a good growing season or that they pick ramps for their spring tonic. It helps us remember our traditions and shows people what West Virginia is all about."
Silvester said that the Groundhog Day festivities - from Freddie to the second annual Woodchuckin' Contest or the walking tour to check out the wildlife - are great experiences for people of all ages.
"We especially love seeing children come and visit," Silvester said. "It gives us an opportunity to teach them about natural resources and hopefully instills them with an appreciation for nature, particularly in West Virginia. That's what it is really about."