Holiday events welcome the New Year

Published on Wed, Dec 19, 2012 by Brandy Kiger

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The New Year is almost upon us, and as we come close there will be several opportunities in Birch Bay to reflect on and celebrate the turning of the year.
Ring of Fire and Hope

For 30 minutes on New Year’s Eve, Birch Bay will be a brighter place as the fifth annual Ring of Fire and Hope lights up the perimeter of the bay from Birch Bay Village to Point Whitehorn with roadside flares creating a striking scene on the waterfront.

“It’s very unique,” realtor Mike Kent said. “My wife and I got the idea from a visit to the Great Lakes, where they do this for the Fourth of July, and we thought it would be great to bring it here.”

Kent hopes it will be a time for residents and visitors to reflect on the past year as they light their flares and set them to burn on the high tide line. 

Each year, Kent and his wife Rose donate about 300 flares for the event, free of charge. They encourage participants to bring their own flares, though, because they are first come, first served. “People should buy the spikeless, 30-minute flares from auto parts stores or from Sanderson Safety Supply in Bellingham for a special price,” Kent said. 

Road flares will be available at the Visitor Information Center at 7900 Birch Bay Drive beginning at 5 p.m. while supplies last. (Limit two flares per family.)

Polar Bear Plunge

If you’re suiting up (or stripping down) to take the Polar Bear Plunge, an icy dip into Birch Bay on New Year’s Day, you’ll have to get there a little earlier than usual. The Plunge will be held at 11 a.m. on January 1 to accommodate receding low tides. “The tides are not in our favor this year,” said Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce president Dave Hiller. “People are going to have to run a little farther than usual.”

Hiller anticipates a turnout similar to previous years of the Plunge. “It’s kind of great since it’s our 30th year. We had 300 people last year, and weather-permitting, we’d like to see 400 out here,” Hiller said. 

Costumes are encouraged and clothing is required, Iain Buchanan, general manager of Birch Bay Waterslides, an event sponsor said.

Costume-clad participants (and their less festive friends) will break from the shoreline when the fire department ambulance’s sirens blare and rush into the surf to welcome the New Year. Awards will be given for best individual and group costumes (judging at 10:30 a.m.), the oldest participant, the most plunges and the person who has traveled the farthest. Prizes will not be awarded for length of time in the water. 

Hiller recommends that participants bring a towel and wear aqua socks or something similar to protect their feet. “They’re going to get cold out there,” he said. Hiller will be taking the plunge for the first time this year, and will be going in “with enthusiasm,” he said. “I’ve thought about it for many years. I’ve watched it, and I thought I needed to do it. At this point, as the president, I don’t think there’s an option.”

Bay Café will be serving coffee and cocoa after the Plunge and there will be live radio coverage by Praise 106.5. Registration, which is free, begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Visitor’s Information Center, located at 7900 Birch Bay Drive. “I Took the Plunge” T-shirts with the 2013 Polar Bear Plunge design can be purchased for $20. 

“It’s been a great tradition out here at Birch Bay, and it’s amazing the number of people who come from near and far to enjoy the event,” Buchanan said. “It’s fun for all ages, and for families it’s a great thing to do on New Year’s Day.”

International Broom Hockey Tournament

“He sweeps, he scores!” is the cry being heard across Birch Bay these days in anticipation of the first international broom hockey tournament that will take place on January 1 after the Polar Bear Plunge. Hosted by NW Park & Recreation District 2 (NWPRD2), the exhibition match will feature a U.S./Canadian faceoff at 1 p.m. at Birch Bay Waterslides.

Teams of 6 to 12 will take to the pavement in tennis shoes with brooms to bat around a small, lightweight ball for three 15-minute periods of good natured play.

The brainchild of Heidi Holmes, office manager for NWPRD2, the event is a throwback to her high school days. “We wanted to provide an activity for local people to attend, something fun to do after the Plunge,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to create community spirit and hopefully, as it grows over the years, we’ll have more teams and something else for people to enjoy on New Year’s Day.” 

For more information about the New Year’s events, visit