ALPENA - Finding excitement in winter might be hard, but this year's Polar Bear Plunge will chill any winter blues away. The big plunge will take place at Burton's Last Resort on Long Lake Feb. 25. Pre-registration starts at 12 p.m. and jumpers will hit the water at 1 p.m. Live entertainment by Steve Rea also will be provided.
"This is our fourth year having it at Burton's. We tweak it every year and come up with different ideas; this year we are more organized than ever. We learn from our mistakes and make it better every year," co-owner Kathy Burton said.
One of the main changes to the original event will begin on Feb. 24, when Burton's will hold an auction for Special Olympics the night before the polar plunge. Burton said there will be karaoke and numerous items for sale to raise money.
"It's a whole new thing, and people can come register for the plunge on Friday night during the auction. We're trying to bring in more activity and donations for Special Olympics," she said.
Jumpers also can register the day of the plunge, but must have a minimum donation of $75.
"A lot of people do it every year. We're always packed and watching them jump is just hilarious," Burton said.
What: Polar Bear Plunge
When: Feb. 25 - Pre-registration at 12 p.m., plunge at 1 p.m.
Where: Burton's Last Resort
While the polar plunge is about fun and raising money for a good cause, safety precautions are taken. According to Burton, ambulances will be present, and Michigan State Police will cut an eight feet-by-eight feet hole in the ice and stand in the water with wet suits on during the event to assist jumpers out of the water.
"All of the jumpers are also encouraged to wear costumes and will parade around the restaurant before they jump. The jumpers will be judged for different things, like raising money and their costumes. It's a lot of fun and there are a lot of good prizes," she said.
According to Burton, Assistant Area Director Brett Burke asked if the event could take place at the restaurant, and it has hosted it every February since.
"We have the perfect location for it. People can come in and get warm, have a drink, food, and we have room for a larger audience," Burton said.
Burke said there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into the event, including roping off a designated area for the hole and organizing space for the costume parade.
"We're hoping 300-400 people come and that there will be around 20-35 jumpers, which is what we had last year. We have donors making cookies; we'll have a booth set up on the ice, hot dogs, and hot chocolate," Burke said.
According to Burke, $500,000 was raised for the state and $11,000 was raised in Alpena last year, but half of the money stayed locally for the benefit of area three athletes.
"This is our largest fundraiser and we're hoping to build it up and make it the biggest one. We want people to get excited about it and look forward to it every February," Burke said.
Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687.