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Beau knows spring's on the way

LILBURN - The General has spoken.

At 7:35 a.m. Friday, General Beauregard Lee crawled from his mini-mansion at the Yellow River Game Ranch and declared an early spring.

"If he sees his shadow, that means six more weeks of winter, but if he comes out and plays and he doesn't have a shadow, then spring is coming," said Art Rillings, owner of the game ranch in Lilburn, where General Lee resides.

Waving yellow pompoms and hoping for spring, a crowd of about 70 gathered outside Beau's residence at 2222 Weathering Heights. As the sun came up over the animal park, Miss North Metro Christian, 8-year-old Grace Auman, rang the bell to rouse General Lee from his habitat.

While the first round of ringing failed to bring out the critter, a dish of scattered, smothered and covered hashbrowns - topped with lettuce - from Waffle House, along with loud cheers and "Go Beau" signs, arose the groundhog.

Celebrating Groundhog Day as well as her 13th birthday, Sarah Ethridge said she and her family arrived at the park at about 6 a.m. to get a front-row view.

"We got a late start this year," said the Lawrenceville resident. "Last year, we were here at 5:30 in the morning. We come every year. It's a tradition."

Snug in his groundhog hat, Sonny Gunterman, of Lithia Springs braced the chilly morning weather and snapped photos of the General as he burrowed through straw and played for the audience.

"I bought the hat just for the event. You have to have the hat," he said. "This is my fourth year coming. It's always a lot of fun."

While Gunterman and Ethridge both agreed they were excited that, according to the General's prediction, winter would soon be over, bell-ringer Auman was less than thrilled.

"I was hoping for more winter because I want to see snow," Auman said. "I'd really like a snow day."

In Pennsylvania, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted the same outcome as the General. But "Southside" Steve Rickman, of Eagle 106.7-FM radio station, who introduced the General to the crowd, noted "we don't need a Yankee groundhog. We go by what our groundhog sees."

In his 32 years of predicting the spring forecast, General Beau has been accurate 98 percent of the time, Rillings said.

"He's got a very good record," he said. "This is the General's big day, and it's the highlight for the year for the park."