Before Groundhog Day, there was Badger Day

February 4, 2018

No badger was on hand to predict when winter will end, but two dozen outdoor enthusiasts — half of them kids — learned about the origins of Groundhog Day during a Wildcat Weekend presentation Saturday at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center.

Amanda Filipi, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission outdoor education specialist, told the audience that Badger Day was inspired by Groundhog Day — which was actually inspired by Badger Day. To Germans, the badgers are the animal of choice for weather forecasting. Nineteenth century settlers from that country, however, had to substitute the furry rodent when no badgers could be found upon their arrival to the East Coast.

Actually, the first antecedent to the groundhog was the bear. When German bears got scarce, they substituted another animal that likes a long winter nap, the European badger, Filipi said. Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania started the modern tradition, employing the more abundant groundhog, in 1887, at a spot called Gobbler’s Knob. The tradition continues to this day.

Filipi displayed pelts from a groundhog and the American badger and described differences between the two species of ground-dwelling carnivores. While American badgers may not be plentiful in Pennsylvania, they are common in the central and western United States and thrive on the Panhandle plains.

For the record, the celebrity groundhog that makes the annual weather prediction, Punxsutawney Phil, is correct only 39 percent of the time, she said.

The event, the second of this year’s Wildcat Weekends series of hikes, workshops and other outdoor-themed events that will continue monthly at the newly expanded and renovated Wildcat Hills Nature Center at Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area. The Nature Center’s recent $2.375 million expansion and renovation more than doubled the size of the facility and created additional exhibit and multipurpose space.

The next event in the series will be “Wildlife and Watercolors” on March 10. Pre-register by March 3 for the painting class, which will include a $10 fee to cover the cost of supplies. Light refreshments will be served.

Most Wildcat Weekends events are free, although a Nebraska Park Entry Permit is required for vehicles. For events that include hiking, participants are strongly encouraged to bring hiking shoes, water and sunscreen. For more information, contact the Nature Center at 308-436-3777.