Clear the way! It's Groundhog Day Eve!

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By Larry McGuire, Of The Spirit
Staff Writer

In case you have been out of town or something along those lines, it's Groundhog Day — and this could be a historic day for our own Punxsutawney Phil, the Seer of Seers.

As world renowned as Phil is, even he has a boss, and that person is Bill Deeley, president of the Groundhog Club Inner Circle. This week, we talked things over with Deeley as he and his fellow Inner Circle members prepared for the big day.

There's been quite a lot of talk about the temperature and sub-zero conditions for the trek to Gobbler’s Knob. Deeley said that it looks as if the temperature is going to be in more favorable than it’s been the past few days for Phil's prognostication, maybe even high teens or mid-twenties.

"It doesn't look like a whole lot of wind, which is always a big plus," Deeley pointed out, adding that he can tolerate the cold weather, but he isn’t a fan of the wind. He also noted that at The Knob, the wind is typically swirling around the parking area, but it’s often fairly windless down in the amphitheater area, near Phil's stump.

"The wind last year up in the parking area, it gets you from every direction," Deeley pointed out. "Last year the wind would get you from every direction, so hopefully, we won't get the wind this year."

Deeley said that last year, they allowed Phil's followers to have their pictures taken with him on stage at The Knob or inside the clubhouse. He noted that it worked really well doing those in the building. "We'll wait and see what happens this year. I thought it worked out very well, and everybody stayed warm," he said.

Deeley pointed out that there are already people popping in and out throughout town, and he ran into some from Utah on Thursday. With Groundhog Day being on a Saturday, he’s got his hopes set high, too. "I really think we're going to see one of the largest crowds ever," Deeley explained, adding that the record is somewhere around 38,000 people and that he thinks it’s possible it could exceed 40,000 people this year — a large feat for a town of 6,000.

The work has already begun at The Knob, Deeley said, as Pat Osikowicz had been plowing snow all day Thursday, with help from some others. Deeley pointed out that there will be about half a dozen people with their trucks who will be up to retouch it, and then, they'll put the straw out and it'll be ready for Phil.

Regarding those who have parking passes, Deeley said that parking will be up by the clubhouse, as it usually is, with a small area down below, right before you turn into The Knob, providing a bit of additional parking.

Deeley explained that Snyder Hill Road will be one way from Walmart all the way through to The Knob and will be for buses only; those who have a parking permit to park at The Knob will have to go up Elderberry Hill Road. He added that once they get to the top of Woodland Avenue, they'll swing left to the entrance to the ball field, and there will be no cars driving through the arch. He also said that they’ll be using the big light plants once again this year on the hill, which helps everyone to see and makes getting around safer.

"The state police have been super cooperative and have this down to a science, how to get in and out of there," he said. "We are prepared for possibly the largest crowd ever to attend Groundhog Day, and we have 80 buses that they are going to run." Buses are going to pick up at Aldi, Walmart and in front of McDonald’s.

"Once everything gets crowded and the parking areas are filled, we're going to use Punxsutawney Area High School as the overflow parking lot," he said. "You'll not pay for a ticket at the high school; you'll get on a bus, and they'll take you down to Aldi, and you'll purchase your ticket there and ride up on that bus to The Knob." He added that there will be two buses that will run back and forth to the high school all day.

Deeley said that once the ceremony is over, the shuttles will run until 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. He noted that once they get everybody off The Knob, they'll cut the number of buses down from the 80 they began with.

In regard to today’s activities, Deeley said that not only is the annual banquet sold out, but so are the Dueling Pianos and Groundhog Ball. The banquet, which is held at Punxsutawney Area High School, features the naming of the Man and Woman of the Year, and this year's guest speaker is meteorologist Joe Murgo, who has covered the weather in the area for many years.

Deeley noted that Phil has been out and about for the last few weeks, visiting schools and attending other functions as well, like the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. He made mention of the schedule, and how every year it gets bigger and better, with more and more activities and events — giving credit for that to Groundhog Club Executive Director Katie Donald. "Katie is always thinking of bigger and better ways to promote Groundhog Day," Deeley said.

Deeley explained that when they first began hiring somebody to help the Inner Circle out, they moved away from the Chamber of Commerce secretary to someone who started working after Thanksgiving and worked two or three hours each day until Jan. 1, then to six to eight hours a day. "Now, it’s a full-time job, 52 weeks a year," Deeley said. "It’s seven days a week. Katie has organizational skills that I can't explain."

For more information on the schedule of events, visit www.groundhog.org, and check www.punxsutawneyspirit.com throughout the weekend for updates on the event.

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