French Creek Freddie Groundhog Day event canceled

French Creek Freddie Groundhog Day event canceled

Submitted photo
The West Virginia Wildlife Center’s 47th annual Groundhog Day celebration, featuring French Creek Freddie, which had been set for Friday morning, has been canceled,

FRENCH CREEK – Famed Mountain State groundhog French Creek Freddie will definitely not see his shadow this winter, as the West Virginia Wildlife Center will remain closed until further notice due to a federal government decision, officials said Wednesday.

“Our state wildlife center in French Creek is temporarily closed due to an abrupt decision by the USDA to no longer recognize an indefinite variance for a secondary containment fence that was issued 24 years ago,” Gov. Jim Justice said during a press conference Wednesday.

“There’s a fence … that literally could have gone around the facility, and we had a variance and have had that variance in place for 24 years. And now they show up and say, ‘Nope! Nope, not gonna do it now. Close it down,’” Justice said. “It’s so bizarre, it just drives me nuts.”

The Wildlife Center’s 47th annual Groundhog Day celebration, which had been set for Friday morning, has been canceled, Justice said.

“We said, ‘Well, can we not at least take pictures of the groundhog on Groundhog Day?’ You know, I think it’s called French Creek Freddie… ‘Nope, we can’t do that.’”

Justice said the decision amounts to a retaliatory move by the federal government against the state of West Virginia.

“This is a move by people who are basically trying to punish states,” the governor said. “And you see what’s going on with President Trump. I mean for God’s sakes a-living, you see what’s going on with me. It is absolutely purposeful and direct and it is absolutely the last thing that our federal government needs to be doing.”

Late last year, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources said the Wildlife Center would be closed for its required annual inspection beginning Dec. 31. The Wildlife Center was expected to reopen on Jan. 5, but has still not reopened.

The Wildlife Center began in 1923 when it was established as a game farm. Since then, the facility has evolved to become a center for wildlife conservation and education. Today it features a variety of native wildlife species that can be viewed in a natural setting.

The Center is also home to French Creek Freddie, West Virginia’s famous weather-prognosticating groundhog, who didn’t come along until decades later, according to the DNR. In 1978, Freddie’s weather-predicting career got its start when former West Virginia State Wildlife Center Superintendent Bill Vanscoy responded to a reporter on Groundhog Day if there was a groundhog on site and if it had seen its shadow. 

“I don’t remember what I told him, but it was whatever was appropriate to the weather we were having,” Vanscoy said. “Anyway, he asked me what the groundhog’s name was. I don’t know what possessed me to do it but I skipped the usual lecture on why we don’t name animals and said his name was French Creek Freddie.”

“It went out on The Associated Press wire and soon we were getting calls from all over the county. Every year now, people from newspapers and TV stations come out on Groundhog Day and we kick a groundhog out of its den for the cameras,” Vanscoy said. “It’s harmless fun and it comes at time of the year when people need some cheering up.”

The public event was canceled in 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns. Nonetheless, French Creek Freddie delivered his weather prediction during a private ceremony in his home at the Wildlife Center.

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