No marmots were disturbed in the making of a new Groundhog Day tradition at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre.
A crowd gathered outside at the centre on a chilly Wednesday morning to witness the weather prediction by Okanagan Okie, the centre’s yellow-bellied environmental ambassador.
What the crowd didn’t know until the last moment was that Okie is toy stuffed groundhog. All the real marmots were below ground in hibernation, and staff, with their endless compassion for animals, didn’t want to wake them.
As the tradition goes, if the groundhog emerges on the big day and sees his shadow, winter will drag on for another six weeks. If not, we’re in for an early spring.
That only works if you have a real marmot, so centre manager Cheryl Hood polled the audience to see whether they thought Okanagan Okie saw his shadow.
Unsurprisingly, the audience answered with a resounding no.
“It’s been a long winter and I think with everything that we’ve all been experiencing with COVID and so on, we needed a little levity,” said Sue Beaudry, co-chair of the centre’s board.
“We wanted to remind people that we’re here, we’ve already started online registration for summer camps for kids and we’ll be opening the middle of April, and there will be workshops and walking tours and all kinds of thing that will be happening up here.”
Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming sat quietly in the audience, but when it came time to read the official weather proclamation he was called up to do the honours.
Hot chocolates and coffees were poured for guests, who could also warm up at a bonfire. A Bristol board was set up with information about groundhogs, which are part of the marmot family and are abundant at the centre in the warmer months.
“Okanagan Okie is our ambassador to get people engaged in the environment,” said Hood.