In 2009, the Alaska State Legislature officially declared each Feb. 2 Marmot Day, the Alaskan equivalent of Pennsylvania’s Groundhog Day. Unfortunately, Alaska’s version of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog famed for his winter weather forecasts, is always hibernating at this time of year. So Mount Roberts Tramway General Manager George Reifenstein decided to wheel out a rather large substitute.
On Feb. 2, Reifenstein and Mount Roberts Tramway maintenance manager Robert Cozby placed Monty the Marmot in front of the Tramway building next to the Juneau cruise ship dock in honor of Marmot Day. Monty, who spends summers at the Mount Roberts Tramway’s upper complex being photographed with visitors, did not see his shadow.
Marmot Day lore says if it’s cloudy when a marmot emerges from its burrow it will stay outside, signifying an early end to winter. If it’s sunny, however, the groundhog will sees its shadow and scurry back into its burrow to hide, and winter weather will continue for six more weeks. Of course, this is Alaska, and winters have actually been known to linger much longer than that!
Alaska has three types of marmots: the hoary marmot, the Alaska marmot and the woodchuck (also known as the groundhog), which is found in the interior. Part of the squirrel family, Alaska’s marmots are the largest found in North America. They reach peak weight at the end of summer and hibernate all winter, usually not emerging until April or May.
Reifenstein said Monty’s ceremonial emergence from the Mount Roberts Tramway’s lower terminal will become an annual celebration, giving the big guy and the animals he represents a dependable 15 minutes of fame every year. “Tourists ask if our marmots are really this big,” Reifenstein said, referring to Monty. “Our standard response is that if they were, we would have bars on the windows.”
Click here for more information on other upcoming events at the Mount Roberts Tramway. The Tramway is scheduled to open full operations for the 2011 season on Friday, May 6.