WINTHROP — Move over Punxsutawney Phil, here comes Winthrop Wilbur.
This Groundhog Day, Winthrop residents and visitors are invited on a two-hour tour on skis or snowshoes to look for Wilbur the Winthrop Whistlepig.
“We actually have real groundhogs in Winthrop, so why would we let someone 3,000 miles away tell us what the weather’s going to be?” asked Kristen Smith, spokeswoman for the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce.
So, on Feb. 2, instead of looking to national newscasts from Pennsylvania, the Methow Valley will be listening to the local radio station as it follows the event by cellphone.
Local naturalists Steve and Kim Bondi, who operate North Cascades Basecamp, will lead the tour from the Winthrop Town Trailhead to look for groundhog tracks and signs of other critters, from 9 to 11 a.m. Then, everyone will meet back at the trailhead for a proclamation, read by Methow Valley School Superintendent Mark Wenzel, dressed in a tophat and using his skills as an actor. A bonfire and free refreshments are provided.
“It’s kind of theater mixed with recreation,” Smith said of the event.
The public is invited, but those who come on the tour will need a trail pass.
Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees his shadow on Feb. 2 you can expect six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, there will be an early spring.
This will be Winthrop’s third year to host a Groundhog Day event.
Last year, Wilbur correctly predicted six more weeks of winter, Smith said.
Those on the ski tour didn’t actually see a groundhog, or marmot, as they’re known locally. But residents from around the valley are invited to call in sightings — and the weather conditions if they catch sight of a marmot — in time for the town’s proclamation.
Smith said that there really is a Wilbur — a stuffed marmot who is moved to various locations around the valley. He even has his own Facebook page under Wilbur Winthrop Whistlepig.
But unlike the caged groundhog of national fame, Wilbur is kind of shy, she said, and not very open to media attention.
“Rather than mugging for cameras and fanfare, Winthrop Wilbur is aloof and free to be a groundhog,” she noted.
Even so, Smith said, “We’ve gotten unbelievable news coverage out of it. Last year, KTRT did a live remote, with a cellphone — it was very Methow Valley.”
That was the local radio station. Seattle and Spokane television stations have also showed up for the event. KOMO News called Wilbur “the only reputable source this side of the Rockies!”
This year’s coverage could go even farther, Smith predicted. “It’s on a Saturday this year, so we’re expecting a much bigger crowd.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512