By Kaylee Botting
January 1 will not only mark the beginning of the New Year, but also the 34th Polar Bear Plunge.
The annual tradition brings thousands together as they submerge themselves into the cold, wintery water of Birch Bay – with a possibility of snow, the 2,500 to 3,000 expected participants might find themselves extra cold this year.
The event begins at noon on New Year’s Day at the Birch Bay Beach Park located at 7854 Birch Bay Drive. Volunteers will have warm beverages and campfires set up at the park for participants to enjoy after they take the plunge.
While the event is free and open to everyone, the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce encourages individuals to register so they can receive an official “I Took the Plunge” certificate. Registration begins at 10 a.m. New Year’s Day, or in advance online at birchbaychamber.com.
A costume contest will begin at 11:30 a.m. Four prizes are available for best group, best individual, most unique and best child costume for under age 12. The contest is being judged by volunteers.
Parking will be available behind CJ’s Beach House Restaurant by donation. Funds received will go to Blaine High School’s wind ensemble’s trip to Japan in February.
Before taking the plunge, the community will light up Birch Bay during the 12th annual Ring of Fire and Hope.
Beginning at 7 p.m. on Saturday, December 31, revelers will bring in the New Year early by lighting road flares along the high tide shoreline.
Starting at 5:30 p.m. participants can pick up a free flare donated by Mike and Rose Kent on a first-come, first-served basis at the Birch Bay Visitor Information Center located at 7900 Birch Bay Drive.
The free flares run out quickly so it is strongly recommended that additional spikeless flares are purchased in advance. They can be bought at Pacific Building Center True Value, located at 2677
The Kent family started the Ring of Fire and Hope 12 years ago after visiting family in Rochester, New York, where they saw flares lighting up the shore of a lake on the Fourth of July. After they saw how beautiful it was, they decided to bring the event to Birch Bay.
With the number of participants growing each year, the Kents expect over 1,000 flares around the bay this year.
“It is just 30 minutes of a beautiful, serene setting,” Kent said.