Inner Circle presents proposed improvements to Gobbler’s Knob entry

PUNXSUTAWNEY — With the guidance and designs of a Penn State landscape designer, the Groundhog Club Inner Circle is looking at enhancements at Punxsutawney Phil’s Groundhog Day home — and what better place to start than the location where fans and guests enter Gobbler’s Knob.

Tuesday, the club held a public awareness and input meeting to provide information about a $9,000 landscape design matching grant from the PA Wilds Design Assistance Program, with a grant from National Parks Serves Preserve America Fund and DCED Municipal Services Fund.

The group also revealed some preliminary ideas by Mike Mohney, a Punxsy native, landscape designer and instructor with Penn State’s agricultural services department, who was contacted by the club through Inner Circle member Butch Philliber.

Jeff Lundy, the Inner Circle’s Fair Weatherman, said the club has performed numerous improvements at Gobbler’s Knob — which the club purchased in 2005, through the generosity of the Duffell family — over the years, and now, through the design grant, is looking to get the ball rolling on improving other areas — such as the entrance.

“We need a third party to come in and move us in the right direction,” he said.

The first part of improving the entrance is looking at a number of designs and ideas. Mohney said the sign welcoming guests to the Knob is fine, but the surrounding area — including iron fencing that is meant mostly for directing guests off buses during Groundhog Day — is “aesthetically, not that great.”

“When people are coming in, they get out of their cars, get a picture of the sign, or they get out of the car, go down to the Knob and come back,” he said. “It needs a more welcoming environment.”

The entrance should set the tone for any visitor — first-time or 10th-time — coming to the Knob, and thus, Mohney proposed one such design that maintains the existing sign with a new, timbered frame while adding natural formations, such as trees and boulders, to create a more accommodating atmosphere.

In a nod toward the Native American history of Punxsutawney, Mohney also proposed a totem pole depicting the faces of past, present and influential members of the Inner Circle.

An existing kiosk that offer information about Groundhog Day and Punxsy would be moved to an area overlooking the actual Knob, Mohney said.

Other design options include structures on either side of the entry road — 20 feet wide and 14 feet high to accommodate charter buses — off Woodland Avenue Extension, with displays of groundhog lore or wood and/or metal creations. In some designs, a sign would span the from one structure to the other, while others would leave space above the entrance.

An improved entrance to Gobbler’s Knob is just the first phase of four, which involve the area between the actual Knob and the club’s block building for indoor activities.

Among Mohney’s suggestions for this space includes a pavilion of some type that allows for a space for guests and Inner Circle members to interact, or groups and businesses to utilize during Groundhog Day, or a simpler pavilion with timber frames through which the Inner Circle progresses when making its annual trek with Punxsy Phil for his prognostication.

Phase III would allow senior-level Penn State landscape design students to look at other areas, such as the info booth and bonfire area, to create their own ideas, such as a children’s garden and learning area and landscape improvements, Mohney said.

Designs in the Penn State classes offer students real-world concepts, in which they work with clients, hear their ideas and then present ideas.

Phase IV would include improvements to the club’s existing building and the wooded areas around it. One such proposal is a learning trail with different kiosks offering smartphone technology, so users could use a mobile barcode to access other photos and information via the Internet, Mohney said.

Tracy Zinn, representing the PA Wilds, said the grant received by the club is a sub-grant received by the Lumber Heritage Region and divvied up among nine recipients.

She said projects such as this attract media attention and serve as a teaching tool to other communities seeking to accomplish similar projects.

Ron Ploucha, who co-handles Punxsy Phil with John Griffiths, said the club does not have an unlimited amount of funding to undertake these later three phases, and Inner Circle Vice-President Mike Johnston said completion of any phase — the entrance proposal or anything else — would require some fund-raising and additional grants. The $9,000 matching grant from PA Wilds is for only design.

Lundy said at this point, however, “Our primary focus is Groundhog Day (2012), but we’re blessed to have this facility, and we’d like to make this place more user-friendly.”

He said after Groundhog Day 2012 is over, the group will look at the proposals in March or April and make a decision — ideally to be in place by Groundhog Day 2013, which lands on a Saturday, Johnston added.

Inner Circle President Bill Deeley said as a group, the club ranked nine improvement projects, with 80 percent of the membership citing the entrance as a top priority.

“It was that entrance; everyone just said, ‘We need to have a little wow-factor with this entrance,’” he said.

Former Inner Circle President Bill Cooper said, “We’d like to come up with an overall plan in small bites and do the work ourselves as much as we can with community support. We have a picture and a goal.”