Originally created 02/03/03

Georgia's groundhog says spring is at hand



LILBURN, Ga. -- Get the sun screen ready, it'll be an early spring in Georgia.

At least that's the report from General Beauregard Lee, Georgia's groundhog. The portly prognosticator was lured from his miniature antebellum mansion Sunday morning with a bowl of Waffle House hash browns, the first year organizers have used this particular method of drawing him out.

It worked, too. The crowd of about 300 had to wait only about a minute before Beau peeked through the swinging doors of his house at the Yellow River Game Ranch in suburban Atlanta.

"We called them saloon doors, but folks objected to that," master of ceremonies Col. Art Rilling said.

Groundhog Day lore says that when a groundhog sees his shadow on Feb. 2, six more weeks of winter will follow. But even with clear skies Sunday, Beau predicted an early spring for the fifth straight year.

He's the second groundhog to forecast at the Yellow River Game Ranch; his predecessor, General Robert E. Lee, was retired after a decade of Groundhog Day service.

There were a few changes at the ranch this year. Bleachers were added to provide room for the growing attendance, and the Georgia state flag wasn't flown outside of Beau's home because of the controversy surrounding it.

Legislators changed the flag in 2001 at the urging of then-Gov. Roy Barnes, shrinking the Confederate battle emblem. So instead, a U.S. flag adorned the pole beside the door of the mini-mansion.

That flag was flown at half-staff in remembrance of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia.

The crowd braved a 30-degree temperature to watch Beau emerge at 7:34 a.m.

"Some folks kind of question your sanity," Rilling said in his opening remarks. "We think you're sane."

How accurate is Beau's prediction? Last year, about three weeks after he proclaimed an early spring, green buds began appearing on willow trees. On the last day of the six-week prediction period, March 16, the high temperature in Atlanta was a balmy 78 degrees.

Ohio's official version of the groundhog agreed with Beau: Buckeye Chuck emerged from his burrow outside a Marion, Ohio, radio station, and did not see his shadow.

But the most famous of all groundhogs, Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter.

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On the Net:

Yellow River Game Ranch: http://www.yellowrivergameranch.com