Polar Bears warm up to new habitat

Displaced from traditional Port Washington marina location because of high water, New Year’s revelers find city’s south beach quite to their liking

There was a new twist in this year’s Polar Bear dip into Lake Michigan on Jan. 1 — this year, the club took its annual plunge into the frigid lake from Port Washington’s south beach — but that didn’t hurt turnout. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The Polar Bears move to Port Washington’s south beach on Jan. 1 was a success, club president Jon Crain said.

Plenty of people crowded the lakefront to watch the 123 registered Polar Bears jump into the water, Crain said, adding that the typical turnout is about 100 people.

The revelers came from throughout the area and as far away as Germany, he said, adding that a group of people made the plunge as the official Polar Bears were drying off.

“Some people came in late, and with them, there were probably about 150 people,” Crain said.

The mild weather helped draw novice Polar Bears as well as spectators to the lakefront, he said.

This year, the weather was so temperate organizers didn’t have to cut through the ice to clear an area for the Polar Bear plunge.

But there was a fair amount of wave action, prompting the fire department and dive team to man inflatables in case of an emergency, Crain said.

High lake levels and the potential for safety hazards forced the club to move the New Year’s Day event from its traditional home at the far east end of Jackson Street to south beach.

The water off Jackson Street is to the top of the riprap, which Crain said “creates a lot of unknowns under the water. We don’t know if people are going to trip on rocks. You can’t see if there are boulders below. You can’t see the surface you’re walking onto. 

“The last thing I want to do is promote something and people get hurt.”

South beach has much less parking than the Jackson Street area, but Crain said organizers directed people to park at Coal Dock Park and along Chestnut Street.

“It didn’t really pose a problem,” Crain said. 

Whether south beach will become a permanent location for the Polar Bears remains to be seen, he said.

“With the development planned (at Newport Shores), I don’t know if there’s going to be room for us,” Crain said. “With the high water, that’s really undetermined.

“It may change again. I don’t know what the future holds.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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