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With Punxsy Phil’s return to the weekend spotlight, large crowds expected, but Punxsy is prepared

January 31, 2013

Ron Ploucha, Punxsutawney Phil’s co-handler, (left) and Bill Deeley, Groundhog Club President, pose with Phil after the 2012 Groundhog Day celebration at Gobbler’s Knob. (Spirit file photo)

TRAFFIC

PUNXSUTAWNEY — If you're familiar with the way traffic patterns have been set up for Groundhog Day in the past, then you'll be good to go when it comes to Phil's 127th-annual trek to Gobbler's Knob.

"Nothing has changed. Once again this year, parking will be prohibited on Woodland Avenue, with the detour beginning at 3 a.m., and all vehicles that are normally parked in the street by residents will be towed if they haven't been moved by that time," said Tom Fedigan, Punxsutawney Borough Police chief.

Fedigan said he has sent letters to all of the residents who live on Woodland explaining the situation and how it will be a minor inconvenience that will last for a few hours. He also said the no parking limitation will be enforced the entire length of the street, as Woodland becomes a one-way street heading north during the trek.

"At the same time, parking on Union Street will also be prohibited, and all of the meters will bagged, as it is the main route for traffic throughout the morning for our detour," he said.

He said once the last bus comes off The Knob, the normal traffic flow will resume on Mahoning Street.

Parking will be restricted in downtown in front of McDonald’s and the Pantall Hotel until the event has been completed, Fedigan said.

"If there's one vehicle parked on Union Street, it inhibits the traffic flow. We've had to tow vehicles, but we do our best to find who they belong to so they can move them," he said.

"Once 2:45 a.m. comes around, we've got to do it so we can have traffic flowing," Fedigan added, saying that traffic in town will be detoured, with Woodland being limited to buses and first responders.

All traffic coming into town will be detoured at Gilpin Street, he said.
"You'll get to where you need to go, but there will be some minor delays," Fedigan said.

He said that, obviously, there will be longer delays following the event, beginning at approximately 7:45 a.m. — right around the time people begin returning to town.

Fedigan said this year, the Groundhog Club has added another bus stop in town. In addition to the McDonald's pickup, there is a second stop by Aldi in the Punxy Plaza.

"With anticipation of the large crowd for this year's event, an auxiliary parking area has been added to be located at Punxsutawney Area High School on North Findley Street, and there will be a shuttle bus that will transport trekkers to the Punxy Plaza to catch the bus for The Knob," he said.

"Once the downtown and Punxy Plaza lots are full, all traffic will be diverted to the high school," Fedigan said, adding that bus tickets to The Knob will be purchased at Aldi, not at the high school lot.

He said the third stop is at Walmart, which is located in Young Township and is monitored by Punxsutawney-based Pennsylvania State Police.

Keith Shields, traffic, buses and parking coordinator for the Groundhog Club Inner Circle, said that Snyder Hill Road will be one way beginning at 3 a.m., which is when the buses will begin leaving Walmart, as the Walmart lot is expected to fill up quickly.

Shields said that when coming down from The Knob, trekkers can get off at McDonald's or Aldi and catch a shuttle bus that will return them to the Walmart parking lot.

"Those buses will run every 15 minutes until 3 p.m.," Shields said, adding that event organizers don't want people attempting to walk up Indiana Hill on Route 119 in order to return to Walmart. They should wait and take the shuttle bus.

Fedigan said the bus stops in Punxsy Borough will have law enforcement on duty for everyone's safety.

"Law enforcement will conduct cursory checks for alcohol and weapons in their backpacks," Fedigan said, adding that alcohol and weapons are strictly prohibited at The Knob.

"If someone refuses to cooperate with the cursory check, they will not be permitted to board the bus," he said.

Shields said people need to get to the bus stops plenty early, as the last shuttle bus will depart at 6:30 a.m., and hopeful spectators may be pushing it to be there in time for Phil's Prognostication if they wait to the last minute.

For additional safety purposes, there will be a medical tent and a warming tent for anyone who may be in need of aid at The Knob, Shields said.

ENTERTAINMENT

PUNXSUTAWNEY — It could be an all-time record crowd with Groundhog Day returning to the weekend for the first time in a number of years for the 127th-annual trek to Gobbler’s Knob.

"The all-time record was approximately 33,000 people, back when it was last held on a weekend," said Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle.

"Everybody and his brother are coming; all of the houses are filled, and we're expecting anywhere from 40,000 to 45,000 people. There's no way to know for sure, when it is all dependent on the weather," Deeley said. Deeley added that if it's not extremely cold or rainy, the crowd could be quite large.

"The forecast is for a little bit of snow with temperatures in the mid-20s, which are near perfect conditions for the trek," he said.

Deeley said that two years ago, the Inner Circle had The Knob prepared when an ice storm hit the area that night and kept many people away.

And to add to it, Groundhog Day was on a Wednesday — a lower day for attendance. He also said that last year, Phil’s prognostication came on a Thursday that was cold and overcast, but they didn't get a lot of snow, and Phil's followers lucked out on that end of it.

"We've done general maintenance to The Knob — changing lights and completing the entrance," Deeley said, adding that the club tore
up some landscaping that was redone once The Arch project was recently completed.

Deeley said he was very pleased with The Arch and the difference it has made for the entrance, which was once an old gas well road’s steel gate.
"Now, we go back to the normal things we do preparation-wise, which we have down to a science," Deeley said.

He said there will once again be coffee and light refreshments out of The Knob kitchen.

"With the large crowd, everyone will need to have patience, as the workers will have their hands full," Deeley said. He also said that everything is outdoors, so there will be no indoor access to the building.

"Obviously, only in cases of emergency will there admittance to the building," he said.

"Emergency personnel will be on the scene, and there will be an emergency medical helicopter available for evacuation if, by chance, the need would arise," he said.

Deeley said all 500 tickets for the Groundhog Banquet are sold out, and this year's main speaker is Danny Rubin, the writer of "Groundhog Day," the movie.

"It's interesting to hear from the participants in the film as they talk about the making of the movie and what went on behind the scenes," he said.

Deeley said Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett and his wife, Susan, will be in attendance at the banquet and will also be at The Knob in the morning this year.

Tracy Zents, Jefferson County Emergency Services director, will be at The Knob with the county’s mobile command post to assist with security and medical emergencies that may occur, he said.

Deeley said following the annual trek, there will be plenty of activities to entertain all of Phil’s fans, young and old, in Barclay Square and throughout town.

He said that Groundhog Day has become a year-round endeavor.

"Katie Donald, executive director, is now full time, as Feb. 2 is no longer a part-time job," Deeley said. “The Inner Circle has been meeting once or twice a week to address the many issues that come up every year. It has transformed into the family event that we've always wanted it to be."

A changing of the party mentality has been a good thing for the event in
Deeley’s eyes.

"We've lost some of the student crowd, which is OK. The change has transformed Groundhog Day into an event designed for families," he said.
And as a seasoned Groundhog Day veteran, Deeley gave one final piece of advice to hopeful Phil Phanatics.

“My advice to everyone who is going up to The Knob is to get an early start. It's going to take time to make the loop, and you don’t want to miss anything,” he said.

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