European traditions and superstitions have long centered around February 2, the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. for centuries it was believed the weather on this date, known as Candlemas Day, could foretell the length of the current winter.
In Germany, this forecasting was entrusted to a hedgehog. If the animal emerged from its burrow and saw its shadow it would become frightened and scurry back underground. If the hedgehog perceived no shadow, it was time to stay above ground and spring was near.
In the 1800s restless Western Pennsylvanians in the middle of a long winter began staging annual groundhog hunts. At some point lost in the mist of history, Clymer Freas, a newspaper editor in Punxsutawney, tied the groundhog hunt to Candlemas Day. The hunt morphed into a celebration and the members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club began trekking out to Gobbler’s Knob south of town to mark “Punxsutawney Phil’s” prognostication. The first official Groundhog Day trek was held in 1887.
Today the annual celebration lasts a weekend (and includes a screening of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day) and attracts up to 30,000 revelers. That’s too many to squeeze your dog into but Gobbler’s Knob is a public park that welcomes your dog otherwise.
There are large grassy fields for a spirited game of fetch, rough woodland trails that loop around the back of the park, groundhog-themed public art and a permanent stage.
No need to worry about your dog chasing Punxsutawney Phil when you visit - he lives behind glass on Barclay Square in town. Also around town are decorated fiberglass groundhogs, a large plywood groundhog cut-out and plenty of other groundhog-related kitsch.
The park is southeast of town. Take Hwy 36 a quarter mile east of US 119, then turn right (south) on Woodland Ave. Drive for one mile. The road bends sharply to the left, then to the right. Gobblers Knob will be on the east side of the road, at the crest of the hill.
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