Chill for a thrill


Special to the OBSERVER

MAYVILLE Some people shiver at the thought of cold temperatures, others like to jump right in.

This was the case at the Presidents’ Day Weekend Winter Festival 2013 held in Mayville’s Lakeside Park on Saturday.

The event, which officially kicked off with its opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. on Friday, ran from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The event schedule was packed as tightly as the snow on this year’s snow castle, which was built in lieu of the traditional ice castle of years past.

While there was plenty to do throughout the day, the biggest draw for crowds was, undoubtedly, the polar bear swim. Participants of the swim, of which proceeds went to support the Mayville Food Pantry, had to register online via an entry form linked to the Mayville Chamber of Commerce website.

Swimmers emerged from the Carlson Community Center shortly after noon, most wearing little more than a swimsuit. Some were bolder than others, taking diving leaps or falling in backwards, while others took a more cautious plunge.

According to Michael Ludwig, his brief time spent in the freezing water wasn’t the worst experience he’s ever had.

“I just knew that I wanted to get in and out,” said Ludwig. “After you got through the initial pain, it wasn’t that bad. I was pretty surprised. I’m actually not that cold right now, it’s interesting.”

Ludwig took the dive with his daughter, Amber, and her boyfriend, Thad Smith. He said that it was something he had been wanting to do, and he was glad that he could participate with his daughter.

“I just signed up because I wanted to knock it off (of) my bucket list,” he said. “My daughter (Amber) wanted to do it together, so it was one of those bonding moments.”

In order for the polar bear swim event to take place, ice must be removed from the lake surface. The ice is often more than a foot thick during the month of February, and the water temperature is just above freezing at the time of the swim. The ice was slightly thinner this year, as members of the Dewittville Fire Department were able to use a chainsaw to make the water hole. The removed ice chunks were then slid underneath the frozen layer surrounding the water hole, which had a depth of about 4 feet, for reinforcement.

According to Ken Shearer, president of the Mayville Chamber of Commerce, this is the fourth year the festival has hosted a polar bear swim, and every year more people are signing up.

“Last year we had some folks come down from Buffalo just to do the swim,” said Shearer, prior to the event. “You wouldn’t think people would be getting in line to jump in the lake in February, but who am I to second guess what makes some people happy. We’re just glad to host them.”

The polar bear swim brought many of the festival attendees out onto the lake to witness the event. The consensus among spectators was that the swimmers were mad, brave or both.

“(They were) crazy,” said Jeffrey Brush, an 8-year-old from Olean.

“It was weird,” said Matthew Brush, Jeffrey’s 11-year-old brother.

According to Virgil Miller, an attendee from Hartfield and grandfather of Jeffrey and Matthew, both the polar bear swim and the Winter Festival help to detract from the monotony of the winter season.

“(Watching the swimmers) turned me on to it, I wanted to (dive in) right then and there,” said Miller, with a tinge of sarcasm. “It was different, though. It breaks the winter up and it’s just a little (bit of) fun. Those (swimmers) have a lot of guts to do that, I have to say. The shock alone will take your breath away, even in the summertime when it’s cold out.”

Several other festivities were available for enjoyment throughout the day, including: live music, a chili cook-off, snowmobile rides, a cold water rescue demo by the Dewittville Fire Department, a kayak Iditarod for adults and children, snowshoe demos, a 50/50 drawing, a Legos play area for kids and a carved creation giveaway by chainsaw artist Karl Buryta.

The Presidents’ Day Weekend Winter Festival 2013 will continue through today, with festivities beginning at 11 a.m. and wrapping up at 4 p.m. For a list of events, go to