Alaskans now have their own name for the famous Pennsylvania German holiday we know as Groundhog Day.
Called Marmot Day, after the common species found in Alaska and other mountainous regions, the holiday takes place Feb. 2 every year.
"By way of introduction, Marmot Day, Feb. 2, passed through the House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Palin," said Marmot Bill sponsor Sen. Linda Menard, R-Wasilla. "As it happened, I filed this bill out of my love for tourism and local hire."
Because there are no groundhogs in Alaska - yet three other species of marmots call the state home - it makes sense the ground squirrel become Alaska's version of Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog famed for his winter weather forecasts.
"I'm happy to put the spotlight Feb. 2 on our own Alaska marmots that can be seen throughout the state welcoming us to warmer days," Menard added.
Although the bill doesn't give marmots any weather forecasting duties, Menard hopes the state will create educational activities around the animal.
This year, Mat-Su Valley's KMBQ radio station will hold a special event, along with observances in the Mat-Su School District and the Alaska Zoo.
Locally, Menard will incorporate excerpts from the children's book "Gimme, Gimme Moocher Marmots," by 14-year Douglas resident Cindy Burchfield, in her presentation Tuesday to the Senate.
"I am beyond thrilled to be a part of the first-ever Marmot Day in Juneau," Burchfield said. "We are Alaskans, and it's time we took our spring prediction from a furry friend closer to home. No disrespect to Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania."
In fact, Burchfield said the marmot is responsible for the home she has today.
"When we were looking for houses, we drove all over Juneau," she said. "When we saw a marmot eating grass on the side of the road, we knew this was a good place to call home."
Burchfield's first and only book was inspired by a camping trip with two of her nieces, during which the girls kept a journal for their English class.
"It was there that the name Moocher Marmots was originally penned," Burchfield said.
The book, which also features a Happy Camper's Journal in the back for older children, is essentially a story of good marmots gone bad, she said.
"It teaches the lesson not to feed wild animals, in a playful, whimsical way," she said. "While 5 to 7 years is ideal, I have met parents with younger and older children who love it."
"Gimme, Gimme Moocher Marmots" is available at Hearthside Books, Rainy Retreat Books and The Gallery of the North. For more information about the children's book, visit www.moochermarmots.com.
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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