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West Virginia State Wildlife Center obtains clearance to host Groundhog Day celebration tomorrow

CHARLESTON, WV — Today, Governor Jim Justice announced that the State Wildlife Center in French Creek has obtained a one-day clearance from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to open and host the 2024 Groundhog Day Ceremony. The celebration is scheduled for tomorrow, Friday, February 2, at 10:00 a.m.

Members of the public are invited to attend the ceremony, which will start at 9:50 a.m. with an opening ceremony. At 10:00 a.m., French Creek Freddie, the State Wildlife Center’s resident weather-predicting groundhog, will emerge from his dwelling to reveal whether an early spring is on the way or if winter will continue for another six weeks.

Following the ceremony, guests are encouraged to take photos with French Creek Freddie, enjoy refreshments, and explore the State Wildlife Center.

All West Virginians who cannot attend are invited to watch a live stream of the celebration here.

“Despite the challenges posed by the relicensing process, I am thrilled to announce that the West Virginia State Wildlife Center has received clearance to host our Groundhog Day celebration tomorrow,” Gov. Justice said. “We extend our gratitude to the USDA for their support. So I ask all West Virginians to join us as we mark this tradition tomorrow. We all look forward to reopening the Wildlife Center to the public soon.”

Due to a pending relicensing procedure through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the WVDNR had to announce on Wednesday that the State Wildlife Center would be closed for Groundhog Day. Gov. Justice called on the federal agencies to reconsider during a press briefing, also on Wednesday.

“On behalf of the WVDNR and all of French Creek Freddie’s adoring fans, I want to thank Gov. Justice for his swift action and the cooperation of the folks at the USDA’s APHIS to save our Groundhog Day ceremony,” said WVDNR Director Brett McMillion. “Groundhog Day is a cornerstone of community spirit and local tradition in West Virginia and this event symbolizes the joy and unity our State Wildlife Center brings to families and visitors. I want to invite everyone to come out and celebrate this victory for our community and continue to enjoy and participate in our state’s unique traditions.”

While the State Wildlife Center undergoes its relicensing procedure, WVDNR staff will continue to work with APHIS staff to complete the relicensing process as quickly as possible and will notify the public once the Wildlife Center has fully reopened to the public.

About the West Virginia State Wildlife Center
The West Virginia State Wildlife Center is a modern zoological facility operated by the Wildlife Resources Section of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Species at the facility include black bear, bobcat, elk, and historically native species that are no longer present, including gray wolf, bison, and mountain lion. Spacious enclosures allow animals to interact with their natural environment and exhibit natural behavior patterns. Interpretive signs help visitors learn more about each animal’s life history, biology, and relationship with humans. Each species can be viewed along a wheelchair-accessible, 1.25-mile trail that runs through a mature hardwood forest.

Directions to the Wildlife Center
To get to the Wildlife Center from I-79 North, take Exit 99 and follow US-48/US-33 East for 12 miles to Buckhannon, and follow WV-20 South for 12 miles. From I-79 South, take Exit 67 at Flatwoods and follow US-19/WV-4 North for approximately 30 miles to Rock Cave. Be sure to bear right to stay on WV-4 North at the US-19/WV-4 Junction. From Rock Cave, follow WV-20 North for two miles to the Wildlife Center.