Trekking to see Phil? Keep traffic, safety in mind
Take the bus and leave the driving to the Groundhog Club's Inner Circle as you make the trek to Gobbler's Knob for the Groundhog Day festivities.
This year, the Groundhog Club Inner Circle has made some minor changes to the bus stops and scheduling.
Tom Dunkel, Groundhog Club Inner Circle Shingle Shaker and busing coordinator, said that there will be three main bus stops.
He said the first stop is at McDonald's on East Mahoning Street in downtown Punxsy, where there will be two ticket booths.
The second stop will be located in the Punxy Plaza by Aldi, with three ticket booths, and the third location is at Walmart located off Route
119 in Young Township, adjacent to Snyder Hill Road, Dunkel said, adding that there will be 80 school buses utilized for transport to and from The Knob by Krise/STA Bus Company.
Dunkel said the alternate overflow area is the Punxsutawney Area High School (PAHS) parking lot.
"There will not be a ticket booth at PAHS; there's a bus that will bring you down from the high school to the Punxy Plaza where you get off the bus and purchase your ticket," Dunkel said. "Then you'll catch the bus that will take you to Gobbler's Knob."
He said the buses will continuously make the loop up Snyder Hill Road and then back down Woodland Avenue and back onto Route 36 and Route 119.
"The ticket booths will open between 1:30 and 2 a.m., and the cost is $5 per person," Dunkel said, adding that the fee pays for the busing and generates a little bit of income for the Groundhog Club to pay for the new office and executive director.
Dunkel said the buses will continue to run up until 6:30 a.m. so they can transport as many people as possible up to The Knob.
"If you're not picked up by 6:30 a.m., you're not going to be there by 7 a.m. and will miss the prognostication that occurs around 7:25 a.m.," he said. "You can move a lot of people with 80 buses from 3 to 6:30 a.m. I suggest that, so they don't have to rush, people make sure they're on the bus between 4 and 5:30.”
Dunkel added that Gobbler's Knob does not open until 3 a.m.
He said those interested in taking the old-fashioned route can also walk the 1.5 miles up hill to The Knob on Woodland Avenue.
"There will be a handicapped bus located at Aldi this year, and it will take people up and drop them off at The Knob," he said. "When the function is over, anyone who has ridden a handicap bus will wait inside the heated building, where they will be picked up and dropped back off at Aldi."
Dunkel said the buses will begin picking people up right after Phil's Prognostication has been completed.
"The buses will continue to run until The Knob is empty, and there are two buses that will run in Punxsy from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. from McDonald's to Punxy Plaza and to Walmart," he said. "If you're coming down the hill on the bus and would like to get off downtown, you can do that and catch the shuttle bus later to take you back to where your vehicle is parked."
He said that in town, lots and street parking will be free, with the exception of the Pantall Hotel lot.
Dunkel said there's another change regarding the people who have parking passes driving their personal vehicles to The Knob.
"The traffic pattern for private vehicles used to to coincide with the busses, which is no longer the case," he said. "Private vehicles will now access The Knob from Route 36 and Elderberry Hill Road in Bell Township. There are approximately 200 parking spaces at Gobbler's Knob."
He said most of those are for the people who are working at The Knob or for the media.
"If you don't have a parking pass displayed on your vehicle, you cannot park up there," Dunkel said. "Those who are picking up a pass can do so at the Groundhog Club headquarters on West Mahoning Street in town."
He said the Inner Circle has been in contact with the Bell Township supervisors, and the township is going to have trucks on the road early to make sure all roads are in good condition if any weather events pop
"They don't typically start clearing the roads until 5 a.m., but they've volunteered to get up early so that the roads will be clear," Dunkel said. "Those with parking passes will travel in the left lane and the buses in the right lane, until they get to the new parking lot entrance."
Dunkel said local traffic will be allowed to use Elderberry Hill Road.
Punxsutawney Mayor Richard Alexander said traffic restrictions will be the same as they were last year.
"Nothing has changed, as once again this year, parking will be prohibited on Woodland Avenue, with the detour beginning at 3 a.m. All vehicles that are normally parked in the street by residents will be towed if they haven't been moved by that time," Alexander said.
He said, at the same time, parking on Union Street will also be prohibited, beginning at 3 a.m., and all of the meters will be bagged, as that is the main detour route for traffic throughout the morning.
Alexander said once the last bus comes off The Knob, normal traffic flow will resume on Mahoning Street. All traffic coming into town will be detoured at Gilpin Street.
He said that, obviously, there will be longer delays following the event, beginning at approximately 7:45 a.m. when the buses begin returning to town.
Dunkel said law enforcement will conduct cursory checks of backpacks for alcohol and weapons, which are prohibited at The Knob.
Tpr. Jamie K. Levier, Pennsylvania State Police Troop C public information officer, said in a release on Friday that PSP is encouraging people who are planning to take part in this weekend’s festivities to be “respectful and patient with others so all may have an enjoyable time.”
“We remind persons attending the event that underage drinking laws will be strictly enforced,” the release said. “Additionally, there is a zero-tolerance alcohol rule in effect, meaning absolutely no alcohol will be permitted on Gobbler’s Knob, regardless of your age. The state police advise people attending the festivities not to attempt to bring alcohol on the premises.
“A safety procedure in place again this year will be the searching of bags that are carried onto buses. Anyone taking a bag, such as a bookbag or carry-on bag, onto the bus is subject to have the bag searched prior to their entering the bus.”
Levier also reminded those who will be driving around town of the restrictions in the area of the festivities.
“Unless you possess a parking pass, the Gobbler’s Knob and access roads are off limits, except for designated buses. All travel routes and loading areas are well-marked and publicized. There are new traffic patterns for those with parking passes, and those instructions can be found on the passes,” Levier said.