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Aaron DeNu Seeks Groundhog To Start New Dupont Circle Tradition

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The taxidermied version of Potomac Phil.
The taxidermied version of Potomac Phil.

WASHINGTON -- Aaron DeNu is trying to get hold of a live groundhog before Thursday at 8:30 a.m. That's when he will host Dupont Circle's first-ever Groundhog Day celebration featuring Potomac Phil, D.C.'s own -- if at this point nonexistent -- weather-predicting groundhog.

DeNu, who came up with this idea about a month ago, says that according to groundhog mythology, Potomac Phil is a brother of Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil. He's the famously prescient if not very accurate groundhog who, every Feb. 2, tells us how much more cold, blustery weather is coming. If Punxsutawney Phil sees his own shadow, expect six more weeks of winter; if he doesn't, then spring comes early.

Phil's father passed both sons "the internal power of weather prediction," DeNu told HuffPost. This boast will be put to the test on Thursday, assuming that a groundhog can be produced by then.

There are roadblocks. For one, hibernation. When DeNu sought permission from the D.C. Department of the Environment's Fisheries & Wildlife division to feature a live groundhog at the festival, he was given the go-ahead, but also learned that wild groundhogs are asleep this time of year. (It's a "profound hibernation" lasting until about the second week in February, according to a rather fascinating groundhog fact sheet put out by Cornell University.)

"The whole thing is we want to do this humanely," DeNu says. "We didn't want to go disturb a groundhog's hibernation."

This left DeNu to try groups and people who might have awake groundhogs already at hand -- wildlife sanctuaries, animal rehabilitation professionals, wildlife rescue leagues, farmers -- which led to more interesting discoveries about groundhogs. He discovered that groundhogs and woodchucks are the same animal and that keeping groundhogs as pets is of dubious legality. But his research did not lead to the discovery of a live, awake groundhog.

DeNu called the National Zoo, which told him they had animals in the same family as the groundhog they could lend him for the festival.

"But we weren't really looking for a prairie dog," he says. "We are looking for a groundhog."

But DeNu is nothing if not flexible. He's got a "very realistic puppet" he could use, and he's also got a dead, stuffed groundhog provided to him by the vintage retailer Miss Pixie's. It remains unclear how a puppet or a taxidermied groundhog can be expected to see its own shadow.

In spite of his trouble finding a groundhog, DeNu, who helped bring World Cup soccer viewing parties to Dupont Circle in 2010, is feeling confident that Potomac Phil in any incarnation will be a hit and that the circle will host an educational, humane and fun Groundhog Day from this year on.

"There's no reason to think that a year from now, five years from now, everyone around the circle won't be serving bottomless mimosas," he says. "We've got our eyes set in the right vision. We're strategically thinking about this Groundhog Day. All we need is a groundhog."

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