Feb. 2 is the biggest day of the year for one large rodent.
Yes, that's right. It's Groundhog Day. One of the weirdest American holidays of all. It's the day when folks gather before dawn on a February morning at Dauset Trails Nature Center to wait for some rodent to predict the weather forcast.
Legend has it, of course, that if General Beauregard Lee sees his shadow, it’s six more weeks of winter weather. If he doesn’t? Good weather is right around the corner.
So what will it be this year? Only the groundhog knows.
Origins of Groundhog Day
It turns out that the concept of Groundhog Day actually originated in Germany. Germans used a hedgehog to "predict" the weather on Candlemas Day, a Christian holiday celebrated on February 2nd each year. Germans who immigrated to Pennsylvania brought the tradition with them, but -- lacking a hedgehog -- used a groundhog instead. Groundhogs are plentiful in Pennsylvania, much to the annoyance of farmers, who consider them a nuisance.
The History Channel says that the first mention of Groundhog Day historians can find dates to an 1887 newspaper in which an editor, who belonged to the "Punxsutawney Groundhog Club," wrote that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog. In 1981, General Beauregard Lee came on the scene to predict southern weather.
Fun Facts about General Beauregard Lee
1. Beau's home at Dauset Trails
Gen. Beauregard Lee lived at Yellow River Game Ranch for decades, but moved to Dauset Trails Nature Center in Jackson, Georgia in January 2018.
2. He's pretty accurate!
According to Yellow River Game Ranch, Beau had a 94 percent accuracy rate prior to his move....although some of his competitors say it's much lower.
3. General Lee is an old guy!
The current Beauregard Lee is about 20 years old, far exceeding the life expectancy of his fellow groundhogs, which is about six to eight years.
4. You can call him Dr.
Per the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Beau has received honorary doctorates from the University of Georgia (in “Weather Prognostication”) and Georgia State University (a “Doctor of Southern Groundhogology”). He’s also been honored by the National Weather Service twice for his reliable forecasts.
Want to visit him?
Dauset Trails Nature Center is a private, non-profit nature center located at 360 Mt. Vernon Church Road in Jackson. On Groundhog's Day, February 2, the main gate will be open by 6 a.m. The free ceremony will begin around 7:30 a.m. Souvenir shirts will be sold for cash or check only.
If you can't make it Feb. 2, Dauset Trails is open throughout the year. Dauset Trails provides outdoor educational experiences showcasing Georgia’s native wildlife, flora, early farm life, hiking and mountain bike riding trails, and horse riding trails on 1,400 beautiful, scenic acres. Free admission and parking. Please visit their website for itinerary updates, directions and more information. www.dausettrails.com
Fun Groundhog Facts
1. Groundhogs are true hibernators
That means they enter a deep sleep in October and don't emerge until early spring ... typically after Groundhog Day. During hibernation, a groundhog's temperature drops down to 40 degrees, its heartbeat slows to 5 times a minute, and its breathing rate slows down to just twice a minute. It also means visiting them at their burrow is kind of anticlimactic because they're always snoring.
2. A woodchuck doesn't eat wood
One of the groundhog's nicknames is woodchuck, which has nothing to do with wood. In fact, the groundhog doesn't eat wood. That means the tongue-twister "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck" is just nonsense. Shocking, I know. Instead, the nickname derives from a Native American word, wuchak, which roughly translates to "digger," according to Scientific American.
3. But it does whistle
Another nickname for the groundhog is whistle pig. That fun moniker comes from the sound a groundhog will make when it is alarmed. Here's an example of a groundhog whistle. Enjoy.