BUCKHANNON — On Feb. 2, just a few minutes before 10 a.m., the gray-and-white clouds parted and the sun shone down on the West Virginia Wildlife Center, the home of Upshur County’s most famous furry weather prognosticator.
At 10 a.m., French Creek “Freddie” promptly emerged from his den and because of the sun, saw his shadow, which signified six more weeks of winter.
The sun was unwelcome that day, as winter-weary Freddie enthusiasts grumbled about another six weeks of snow and cold.
But on Tuesday, March 20 — the official first day of spring — the crowd gathered in Jawbone Park to unveil a special tribute to Freddie was much happier to see the sun’s rays after a day of rain.
Wildlife Center director Tyler Evans and secretary Judy Channell joined city officials, residents and local children for the dedication of a 7-foot-tall likeness of the weather-predicting groundhog, French Creek Freddie.
Mayor David McCauley said his idea to put a Freddie figure in downtown Buckhannon came about just prior to his trip out to French Creek earlier this year to speak at the annual Groundhog Day celebration.
“Half in jest, I suggested that his eminence be perpetually honored in our own Jawbone Park to which several southern Upshurians, or is it Upshurites?... asked if I was serious, to which I responded if they wanted it, we’d make it happen,” McCauley told attendees at Freddie’s unveiling Tuesday. “They wanted it, so (public works director) Jerry Arnold, Tim Miller of The Sign Guy and yours truly worked on a design here we are.
“When discussing dimensions, Jerry Arnold said, ‘Go big or go home!’” McCauley continued. “We figured a good day to unveil Freddie would be on the official first day of Spring to see how Freddie’s Feb. 2 prediction that we’d have six more weeks of winter, worked out.”
The perfect time to reveal Freddie, Arnold and the mayor decided, would be on the first day of spring — also the day the city had planned a Spring Community United Day. In addition to Freddie’s debut, local band Enny Corner played their original hit, “Are You Ready for French Creek Freddie?” while children had the opportunity to plant seeds and listen to a Buckhannon Community Theatre theatrical reading and presentation of “Groundhog Gets a Say” in honor of World Storytelling Day, also Tuesday.
McCauley said he wanted to emphasize that the purpose of Freddie’s placement was to advertise one of Upshur County’s biggest draws – which is located in the southern part of the county – front and center in Buckhannon’s downtown. The mayor suggested those who are unhappy about Freddie’s placement need to lighten up a bit.
“Since some on social media have taken umbrage even expressed outrage with French Creek Freddie having a presence in Jawbone Park, please know, there’s nothing nefarious about this event,” McCauley said. “Our intention is to foster the notion of ‘community’ while having a little fun.’ Some folks need to learn how to have fun.
“We seek to connect Buckhannon visitors with the awesomeness of our W.Va. Wildlife Center and all of southern Upshur County and what better way of promoting the center than to honor their star Freddie here where many visitors come,” the mayor continued. “Our hope is to aid tourism in southern Upshur as a result of our hype today.”
Evans, director of the wildlife center and resident wildlife biologist, said the center was thrilled Freddie now has a presence in Jawbone Park.
“We heard some rumblings that we might be getting a plaque or something like that, but when we found out it was a statue, we were extremely honored,” Evans said. “This is a tremendous honor for us, and we’re very happy to be here today. I’d like to thank mayor McCauley and everyone that made this happen.”
Evans also invited ceremony attendees to the W.Va. Wildlife Center — just 12 miles south of Route 20 — if they’d never been and noted that an average of 35,000 to 40,000 guests visit the center every year.