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Get chilly for charity at Williamsport's annual Polar Bear Plunge

Get chilly for charity at Williamsport's annual Polar Bear Plunge

WILLIAMSPORT — On shores of the Potomac River at Williamsport’s River Bottom Park, a large group of brave souls gathers to ring in the new year with a yearly tradition.

When the signal is given, some just dip in their toes, while others dive head first into the icy waters.

But the participants don’t seem to mind the coldness a bit as it’s all for charity, said Donnie Stotelmyer, the town’s manager.

This year brave souls are asked to meet at River Bottom Park again on New Year’s Day for the annual Polar Bear Plunge. Festivities run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 1. The plunge will be at noon.

The cost to join the group is $25 by either registering in advance at the town’s website or registering the day of the event. T-shirts will still be available the day of the event.

Stotelmyer said the Polar Bear Plunge has been a Williamsport tradition since the 1970s when some local residents started to plunge on Jan. 1.

“The event just took off from there,” he said.

The number of participants varies year to year, depending on the weather Stotelmyer said, noting that it has to be a real weather event before the plunge would be canceled.

“We’ve had as many as 125 to 150 plungers. Last year was a little light, we had about 80 plungers,” he said. “... it was really cold last year.”

For the 2018 Polar Bear Plunge, the Potomac River froze over and officials had to cut ice to allow plungers into the water.

Every year the event is a fundraiser for a local charity. This year’s event benefits the Williamsport Junior Firefighters & EMS.

“Four out of the last five years our Junior Firefighters Program has been selected as the best Junior Firefighter Program in the State of Maryland,” he said. “We’re really excited to help those kids out.”

Stotelmyer said the event kicks off at 10 a.m., with bonfires lit.

At 11 a.m. there will be a costume contest, with cash prizes for the top three.

“And we’ll probably have a little cornhole, depending on the weather,” he said.

Sheetz will provide hot beverages, and Sanders’ Cookie Jar will provide snacks. Everything is free, Stotelmyer said. If anyone does want to donate, the money will go toward the Junior Firefighters.

As for plunging, Stotelmyer said he actually got into the water once.

“It was cold. It takes your heart away,” he said. “It gives your system a good jolt when you hit that water,” he said.

And that might be one reason a lot more people gather to see who’s brave enough to dive into the water.

“We actually have more spectators than we actually have plungers,” he said.

One reason is that there are now two bonfires for people to keep warm while they watch the plungers.

Stotelmyer said it’s an event he looks forward to every year.

“It’s a new year. I enjoy seeing people in their costumes. Some are very unique,” he said with a laugh. “It’s just fun to get together with residents and friends and family and celebrate the new year.”

Top photo: Dozens of “polar bears” brave the icy waters of the Potomac River for the 2018 Polar Bear Plunge in Williamsport. (Herald-Mail file photo)

If you go ...

WHAT: Polar Bear Plunge 2019
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1; plunge at noon
WHERE: River Bottom Park, West Salisbury Street, Williamsport
COST: $25
CONTACT: Visit the Polar Bear Plunge 2019 event page on Facebook for registration form and information, call 301-223-7711 or email


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