Winter has settled in and French Creek Freddie is still in a deep sleep, but Southern Upshur County is already ramping up for their famous resident to make his annual appearance on Groundhog Day, February 2.
The 4th Annual Groundhog Festival will run between Jan. 25 and Feb. 3 and will feature, among an array of other events, the now-famous Rock Cave IGA “Ground Hog” Sausage Sale.
Glen Hawkins, owner of Rock Cave IGA, said, “The sale started as a play on words between groundhog (the animal) and ground hog (sausage), and it caught on.” This year marks the 25th year for the sale and, to commemorate the event, Glen and his wife and co-owner, Jo Ann Hawkins, had a nearly 7-foot-tall groundhog statue carved by local chainsaw artist, Larry Russell. The 400- pound statue is made from solid cherry and is set on a cement slab.
“We started having this sale in 1994 as a one-day sale and sold 600 pounds of sausage that day. The next year, we sold 800 pounds. He said the event has gotten so big that they have extended it to last more than a week. Hawkins said their biggest sales year was two years ago when the Charleston Gazette featured the sale in a full-page article. “We sold 30,000 pounds of sausage that year. That’s 15 tons.”
Wes Hawkins, the store’s meat manager, said the sale will run this year from January 23 to February 5 or until they’re sold out. They will be selling mild, extra sage, and hot breakfast sausage; sweet, mild and hot Italian sausage; andouille sausage and chorizo for 1.98 per pound this year.
As for the main event of the festival, French Creek Freddie is scheduled to emerge from his den at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, and predict if there will be an early spring or six more weeks of winter based on whether he sees his shadow or not.
Gates will open at the wildlife center, on Alexander Rd. at 9 am, with a gathering at the amphitheater at 9:30 am before French Creek Freddie makes his appearance at 10 am.
Other festival events include:
* Opening ceremony at the Banks District Fire Hall at 4:15 pm on Friday, Jan. 25, followed by live music, an open-mic session and a pot luck dinner from 4:30 to 6 pm.
* A social with food, bake sale and cake walk on Saturday, Jan. 26, featuring live music
* Biscuits and gravy breakfast from 7 am to noon on Monday, Jan. 28
* Soup and sandwich dinner at the fire hall with live music from 4 pm to 6 pm on Friday, Feb. 1
* Pancake and “ground hog” sausage breakfast on Saturday, Feb. 2, from 7 am to 1 pm provided by the Lion’s Club at the Banks Fire Hall
* “Ground hog” cook off from 3 pm to 5 pm at the fire hall
* On Sunday, Feb. 3, the fire hall will have arts, crafts and live music from noon to 4 pm.
* Rock Cave Baptist Church will have a gospel sing at 2 pm on Sunday, Jan. 27 at the Rock Cave Baptist Church.