Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kate Crowley
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

February Groundhog Day and race

Going Nature's Way


February 6, 2020

Pity the poor groundhog (woodchuck) that is supposedly dragged out of his comfortable, warm burrow to let us humans fantasize about how much longer we will be in winter’s grasp. If he sees his shadow, winter will continue for six more weeks (guaranteed here in northern Minnesota, shadow or not), but if it’s cloudy and he doesn’t see his shadow, spring will arrive earlier than normal.

It was cloudy that morning at 7:25 a.m. in Punxsutawney, PA, so the gathered crowds of people cheered as the celebrated rodent once again gave a command performance. Here in Willow River, at 7:25 a.m. there was a pink sunrise (another forecast – red in the morning, sailors take warning), but there was enough sunshine to create a shadow. Not more than an hour later, the clouds moved in and we were once again facing a dreary gray day. So, which would we believe if some insomniac groundhog dug its way through two feet of snow to peer at his surroundings? Shadow or no shadow?

The gentlemen members of Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declare that Phil’s prediction is never wrong, just wrongly interpreted by the humans gathered round; in the last 10 years he was right about 40% of the time; about as accurate as your local meteorologist. When the hoopla is over and everyone has enjoyed this mid-winter celebration, Punxsutawney Phil goes back to the town library – yes, the town library where he lives with his mate throughout the year. Since he doesn’t have to contend with real winter temperatures, I suspect he does not sleep any more than a wild groundhog would in the warmer seasons of the year. It’s a silly custom, but what else is there to do on a mid-winter day?

I would like to share with you an alternative celebration that happened in 1969. At that time my husband Mike Link (not my husband at the time) was living in Minneapolis and working at Honeywell as a tax accountant. His car had died the previous summer (he held a funeral for it) and while he could have ridden the bus to work, he chose to ride his three speed bike with the skinny tires, which were the only option at that time. He did this into the winter months and one day as he was riding on the snowy street with cars only inches away, his always active imagination came up with an interesting idea – why not have an event that celebrated winter and healthy exercise?

St. Paul already had the Winter Carnival, but he wanted something that would physically engage people and make them smile and laugh as only Minnesotans can in the depths of winter. It was the end of January and what he conjured up was designed to coincide with Groundhog Day. He decided to create the 1st Annual Groundhog Day Invitational Bicycle Race to be held at Lake Harriet. He set about getting approval from the Minneapolis Park Board and the support from various government officials. The Park Board agreed to plow the road around the lake and to block it off for the afternoon. Groundhog Day that year fell on a Monday, so the race was held on Sunday.

Writer Robert Smith of the Star Tribune had covered the car funeral, so he wasn’t surprised to learn of this young man’s latest undertaking, and he helped spread the word. The employees at Honeywell were told about this event but even so, Mike worried that only a handful of people would show up. Imagine his shock and joy when over 1,000 people turned up. Not everyone planned to “race”, but just came to see what transpired.

People of all sizes and ages, many wearing costumes, began to fill the parking area in front of the bandstand where Mike stood with a microphone and introduced Attorney General Douglas Head who would be the official judge. There were state and local elected officials present, as well as newspaper and TV cameras there to record this crazy mid-winter spectacle. A groundhog from the Como Zoo arrived in a cage with its keeper. It made a brief appearance and then retreated back into the warmth and safety of its cage. The head of the Transit Authority was there to officially start the race, which really wasn’t a race at all. People were encouraged to ride around the lake at their own leisure. There was a tricycle race for the kids.

Mike had prizes and trophies to award for different categories, like the oldest participant – a man from Rochester. There was a prize for the best “wipeout.” He even had a prize for some people who “cheated” by walking their bikes across the snow covered lake. I was living in Minneapolis at the time too and I regret not hearing about this event because I would have been there for sure.

Even though it was a rousing success, Mike said it wouldn’t be an annual event – at least not by him. His goal had been to get people outdoors, enjoying what a Minnesota winter has to offer for those with imagination and a willingness to attempt what one writer described as “whimsical impossibilities.” Mostly he wanted to see people laughing.


Reader Comments


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019

Rendered 05/20/2020 15:51