Freddie preparing for big day

For those who have already grown weary of the latest arctic blast, hope may be just around the corner.

French Creek Freddie, the West Virginia State Wildlife Center’s celebrity prognosticator, will tell central West Virginia on Saturday if spring is just around the corner or if there will be at least six more weeks of chilling temperatures.

The gates open at 9 a.m. at the Upshur County facility along West Virginia Route 20, and Freddie will be rousted from his slumber around 10 a.m. Prior to the prediction, there will be singing and stories surrounding why these furry critters can predict future weather patterns.

Because Groundhog Day falls on a Saturday this year, and in anticipation of a larger crowd, the event has been moved to the amphitheater.

“Last year, we had over 250 people,” Judy Channell, who works at the center, said. “It was hard for those on the ends to see. We’re hoping this way will be better.”

Visitors can tour the Wildlife Center after Freddie’s forecast, and there will be hot chocolate and cookies, games and a variety of activities in conjunction with the Groundhog Day celebration.

For the 23rd year, the Central Upshur Lions Club will again be holding its annual Groundhog Feed at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department in Rock Cave from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 6-12, and children under the age of 6 can eat for free. The menu will consist of pancakes and sausage, coffee, juice and milk. Proceeds from the event are used to support the club’s community activities, including providing eyeglasses and examinations for those who cannot afford them. The proceeds also help to provide wheelchairs and strollers to Wildlife Center visitors. Patrons can also drop off their used eyeglasses for use in developing countries.

French Creek Freddie has been forecasting at the Wildlife Center since 1978. The Groundhog Day tradition dates back to early Europe’s Candlemas Day. Christian clergy were said to bless candles on this day and distribute them to the people. People believed that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, the hedgehog would cast a shadow, which they believed predicted six more weeks of winter. German settlers in America brought the tradition with them, but instead opted for the groundhog because it was much more plentiful in North America than the hedgehog.