Just days before his big day, Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania, visited students at DuBois Central Catholic Elementary School Monday.
The students’ enthusiasm was apparent as they chanted his name — “Phil! Phil! Phil! Phil! Phil! — because they are familiar with the lovable rodent. They know that in just six short days on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, Punxsy Phil will be pulled out of his burrow. According to legend, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.
Donning their trademark top hats, “Cloud Builder” John Griffith, Phil’s handler, and “Big Wind Maker” Tom Uberti, kicked off the program.
“A groundhog has four fingers on his front paws, and a little nub here where his thumb would be,” said Griffith. “He has very sharp claws. They’re good for helping him dig.”
“Groundhogs are also good climbers. They climb trees. I’ll bet you didn’t know that,” Griffith continued. “They’re also good swimmers. They don’t like to do either one of them, because they suffer from the same debilitating problem that Tom and I do. They’re short and fat. Their legs are short, and they have fat bellies. So they don’t like doing that, but they can swim, and they can climb trees.”
Griffith said living in western Pennsylvania it’s likely most everyone has seen a groundhog in the wild.
“So when a groundhog eats, he’ll sit up in the field and have his food, and he’ll manipulate it with his fingers. He can hold a banana if he wants to. Whatever he wants. And eats that way,” said Griffith.
The students learned that a groundhog has four teeth, two on the top and two on the bottom.
“These teeth are sharp, trust me,” said Griffith. “Phil’s my buddy. I’ve picked him up a lot of times, but he’s still a wild animal and if he doesn’t want me to hold him, he let’s me know. And how does let me know?”
“He bites you!” the students exclaimed.
“He bites me, right. And it doesn’t feel good,” said Griffith.
Griffith said predators like foxes, wolves, coyotes and man is probably a groundhog’s biggest predator.
“But that’s the only way he can protect himself is to try to bite whatever’s trying to get him so they have very powerful jaws and teeth,” he said.
The students learned that if a groundhog loses his teeth, one breaks, for example, it will grow right back.
“Now, what’s bad about that is the groundhog’s teeth never stop growing,” Griffith said. “So the reason a groundhog chews on sticks and different things is to keep his teeth ground down. So you’ll even see two groundhogs come together and you’ll think their kissing. They’re not. They’re rubbing their teeth against each other to grind them down. If they didn’t do that, their teeth would grow so long, their top teeth would grow down and their bottom teeth would grow up right through the bottom of their mouth and that would kill them because they wouldn’t be able to eat. So, they have to keep their teeth ground down.”
When it was time for questions, one student asked if people celebrate Groundhog Day across the country.
“They don’t just celebrate Groundhog Day across the country, it’s celebrated all across the world,” said Griffith.
Griffith noted that on Groundhog Day, especially on the weekend, Punxsutawney will get between 30,000 to 40,000 visitors. Since Punxsutawney doesn’t have many hotels, those visitors will book hotel rooms in DuBois, Brookville and Clarion.
“You may run into somebody from Australia, or Japan, or Germany, from all over the world or just somebody else in the United States,” Griffith said. “If you bump into that person, just light up your face with a smile and welcome them to Western Pennsylvania and wish them a Happy Groundhog Day. You guys are all ambassadors of Groundhog Day too, so you’ve got a pretty tough job on your hands. You gotta put a smile on your face and keep it there.”
Opening the clear receptacle where Phil lay, Griffith pulled him out carefully with gloved hands, and then walked around the auditorium showing him to the students.
The Punxsutawney Groundhog Inner Circle members also initiated some audience participation including bringing first-grader Tyler Pfingstler up on the stage because he has a Groundhog Day birthday, Feb. 2.
Alyson Ruscitti and her brother, Joey Ruscitti, were officially crowned Groundhog King and Queen of the DCC Elementary School.
They also tried to see if they could possibly influence Phil’s decision on Feb. 2 — with a singing contest between teachers at the school.
JOHNSONBURG — The Johnsonburg Community Center is approaching its 100th anniversary with a renewed focus on community inclusion.
“We’re open to suggestions. If you’ve got an idea, we’re more than willing to hear what you have,” center Director Christine Bressler said. “If we can make it fly, we’ll make it fly.”
“We’re trying to have the community have a voice and try to have what they want to see,” center employee Deana Paige added. “So they can have more of a hand in it.”
That effort is paying off as the center gets ready to mark 100 years this October. Membership has grown from just over 100 in 2016 to over 500 last year.
The two said they attribute the increase to wider awareness of what the center can offer and the value it can have in future.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase and a lot of that is younger people who are starting to have that appreciation and starting to realize, ‘Hey this is something we might need for our kids and they’re generation,’ so there is kind of a generational pull,” Paige said.
The pair said they would like to see even more growth as programs are added.
“Going forward, I’d like to see more programs for people to come to,” Bressler said. “We have opened our doors and said, ‘If you’d like to do a program, we’ll back you.’ We’d like to see a music and arts program because I think a lot of that is lacking in our community, especially to get the younger kids started.”
“If kids have somewhere to go, they’re less likely to get involved in more dangerous things as they go,” Paige noted. “They grow up to be more well rounded. If we can offer more programs like that, whether they are programs or community events, then we can help eat up a portion of that kid’s childhood and help make it more well rounded. If they start here younger they have an appreciation for the community, they have an appreciation for volunteering, all this character development. That’s kind of our legacy that we’re trying to achieve.”
“What we find is our kids that start out as campers, we find with them that, as they become older, they eventually become our volunteers, our junior campers,” Bressler said. “They just keep coming.”
She added the center also has a number of existing programs and features the public currently takes advantage of.
“We have a summer day camp program. We have an indoor fitness room. We have our pool. The Head Start kids are in the gym playing. People come in every day and walk, or just to say hello. It’s still a big part of the community,” Bressler said. “I grew up in here. My kids have grown up in here. We are used almost seven days per week. You can rent it. You can use it for a birthday party. We have our Grey Knights Drum and Bugle Corps. They come here. With our fitness room –because we have 24 hour access –that’s nice because of shift work. It’s always being utilized.”
“We’re definitely thankful for the community programs,” Paige added “Like 4-H. We have Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts come in here. It’s definitely more of a community program center.”
Bressler said those opportunities provide a gateway for lifelong involvement with the community.
“You come here and you make friends,” she said. “You play and you learn to adapt, and the kids are coming back. You go through periods of certain things are very prominent and they’re a big deal, but you still come back to all those core things.”
And the center is always open to ideas, according to Paige.
“If you want to host an event, come talk to us. If you have an idea for a program, we’ll try it out,” she said. “If someone has an idea, there’s nothing we won’t do to try and bring something for the community. They can call us. They can Facebook message us. They can email us. Even if they just want to stop in during the day, they can.”
The center can be reached by phone at 814-965-2010, by email at email@example.com, one their website at johnsonburgcommunitycenter.weebly.com, or by searching for it on Facebook. It is located at 600 Market St.
Local residents are experiencing some of the coldest days of the winter season, cranking up the heat in their homes during low-degree and below-zero temperatures.
The use of natural gas for residential heating is growing, but some using the resource may not know how it is stored during the other seasons or where it comes from, said Punxsutawney native John Love, who is the director of gas storage and land services for Dominion Energy Transmission Inc (DETI).
DETI is a provider of gas transportation and storage services, and has one of the largest underground, natural gas storage systems in the country, according to its website.
Love, who graduated from the Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering program at Penn State University, said DETI transports natural gas to companies like National Fuel, which is the the link to heating residential homes. The company has a number of employees that work out of the Clearfield County office on Coal Hill Road in Luthersburg.
Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel there is, as far as reducing methane emissions, said DETI Communications Project Manager Frank Mack. It is also typically the least expensive. National Fuel will buy natural gas for a lower price in the summertime when its demand is lower.
“Acquiring it at a low price and storing it in the summer when it’s plentiful, then withdrawing it from storage bringing it out in the winter works well for customers,” Love said.
Drilling and shale formations throughout the United States , including the Marcellus and Utica shales here in Appalachia, has provided the amount of natural gas that’s coming into the market, Love said.
“The emissions from coal-fired electric generation plants are dramatically higher than those from natural gas plants, and they so many coal plants are being replaced by natural gas generators,” he said.
Eleven of DETI’s storage fields, which may have anywhere from a handful to several hundred up to 50 wells in each, are located in Pennsylvania, Love said, and with two in New York and four in West Virginia. The wells are can be up to several-thousand feet deep.
“People don’t realize natural gas used in winter comes from these storage wells, how they work or where they are,” Love said. “They are typically located in rural areas — out of sight and out of mind.”
DETI went back into these storage fields that were drilled decades ago, examining the geological characteristics of the wells, Love said. Injecting natural gas back into the reworked and updated original wells after cementing the steel casings in place allows for “good structural integrity.” The gas is compressed up to its original pressure and stored in the sandstone rock geologic formation.
Dominion Energy Transmission has a variety of programs and methods to assess the integrity of its natural gas storage system. They include periodic inspections of the well casing for internal and external corrosion, regular inspections of its approximately 1,500 storage wells to verify well status, pressure, visual corrosion, vent gas and evidence of leaks, and monitoring by the Gas Control Group and Operations field personnel, Love said.
“On the coldest of winter days, this gas storage fulfills a tremendous function,” Love said. “It’s absolutely critical.”
Since so many storage fields are located throughout the DETI service area, customers like National Fuel don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to get it, Mack said.
National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation representative Carly Manino said DETI is one of several pipeline and storage service providers they have a contract with in order to store and transport natural gas supplies.
“Our partnerships with these pipeline and storage service providers are critical for National Fuel to reliably serve our end-use customers with low-cost natural gas for their winter, residential home heating, and year-round industrial process needs,” she said.
National Fuel serves 13,300 active, residential customers throughout Clearfield and Jefferson counties, Manino said.
Residential heating is 10 times greater during winter than in summer, Manino said, which is why regionally-located, underground storage is important for National Fuel to respond to greater demand times and keep gas costs low.
“In the past decade, the average residential monthly bill for a National Fuel customer has decreased by more than 50 percent, due to shale gas production,” Manino said.
As of October of last year, 41.3 percent of all electricity generated in Pennsylvania came from natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
Manino said National Fuel is currently working on projects in the DuBois area such as routine maintenance, service installations and ongoing pipeline modernization.
For more information on natural gas storage or heating, visit www.dominionenergy.com or www.natfuel.com.
BROCKWAY — When the graduation parties are done, the confetti cleared away, and the high school diploma begins gathering dust on the shelf, many new graduates have a difficult time figuring out what to do next.
For Brockway Area Junior-Senior High School graduate Savannah Buttery, there was always a plan for right after high school. She went to AmeriCorps.
“I got to travel the United States, take a gap year before college, and to learn life skills,” Buttery explained. “This program has taught me many skills to be used in the future, and I will be sure to use them.”
Buttery graduated in May 2018, but spent the next 10 months traveling around the country in the AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps is a residential, full-time service project that gives recent high school graduates a chance to help their fellow Americans. During her 10 months, Buttery has worked with Habitat for Humanity in Forsyth, North Carolina, the American Red Cross in the Carolinas after Hurricane Florence, and Metropolitan Ministries in Florida. She has also worked in the Delta National Forest in Mississippi and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Florida.
Right now, she is working in Delaware. She came back to Brockway to talk to her alma mater about the AmeriCorps opportunity. In the middle of January, Buttery has a tan.
“I’m telling soon-to-be graduates to take your time and don’t think you have to immediately go to college,” Buttery said. “There are so many programs out there that can help you with college and life that are worth taking a gap year to do. Just keep your options open and research into more than just college.”
Buttery has not been gone from Brockway long, so she got the chance to talk to students who remember her from her time as a Rover. She and another AmeriCorps member worked to convince juniors and seniors that AmeriCorps would be a good way to follow-up high school.
“This experience is important for young people because it gives them more exposure to the world around them,” Buttery said. “It also develops leaders, and people that enjoy helping communities. This program helps young people find a solid path they want to follow in their future.”
AmeriCorps does urban and rural development, energy conservation, infrastructure development, disaster relief, and environmental projects. She told students that AmeriCorps has a lot of opportunities. She showed pictures of her work in the swamp as well as building a house. Her Habitat for Humanity work in North Caroline allowed her and her team of 10 to build a house from the ground-up. She called that her greatest accomplishment.
However, Buttery is using AmeriCorps as a springboard to her future. Buttery is her team’s media representative, meaning she gets to contact media outlets and schools as well as take a lot of pictures. That job feeds directly into her plans.
“I hope to become a photojournalist,” Buttery said. “Being the media representative for my team, I gained many skills that can be used in career.”
Buttery still has a couple of months left in her term, but is confident that her experiences will give her a leg-up on her future.
“This program has definitely taught me quite a bit,” she said. “I will carry what I have learned after the program into my college and life.”
JOHNSONBURG — After nearly 100 years, the Johnsonburg Community Center is still serving the function for which it was built and staff are looking to its future.
“In it’s conception, the paper mill built it, and what they built this building for is the community, for the people of Johnsonburg and the surrounding areas,” Director Christine Bressler said. “It was to be used by their employees – but they were bringing health, education – bringing it all together and having it here in the community like a community building.”
“It’s a very unique building,” Bressler said. “One of the few buildings that, we are deemed a historic building, that is actually a functioning building on a daily basis. One thing we can be thankful for, even though it is a 100-year-old building, they built it extremely well. It is a very sturdy building.”
The building was designed and constructed by the Hyde-Murphy Company. The architect was Frank Orner. Bressler said she has been unable to find a record of him designing any other buildings.
“It is built like that very early 1900s style,” she said. “You’ve got a lot of really awesome woodwork and each floor is unique in itself.”
Recently, volunteers have been working to update the century-old structure. Patching, painting and ceiling work are all being completed with the help of the community. A recent collapse of the ceiling in the pool area is also being resolved. According to staff, the last major renovation on the building was done in 1984.
“We recently have people volunteering and coming in,” center employee Deana Paige said. “We had about 20 people of varying ages here painting and taking care of some things. We’re hoping, eventually, to bring the building into the 21st century, even though its a historic building. Keep the history and the historic value but make it so its more feasible.”
In the meantime, the center still serves much of the same purpose it always has.
“What they established they established the first library. They started it here. They had most of the meetings here. They had a billiard room here. We have an indoor pool. We have all these things that were for the wellness of the people,” Bressler said. “Those were things that the original members of the paper mill, the management, saw in different communities, like New York City. They brought that idea back here for the community. They were able to maintain it and build it and here we are, 100 year later, still using the original concept of providing for the community, having programs, having activities for health and the wellness.”