Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times
                                Interpretive Specialist Janet Hall will be leading a guided hike at Fort Ebey State Park on New Year’s Day, one of 33 outdoor First Day activities organized by Washington State Parks.

Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times Interpretive Specialist Janet Hall will be leading a guided hike at Fort Ebey State Park on New Year’s Day, one of 33 outdoor First Day activities organized by Washington State Parks.

Get Outside!

Take in the outdoors on New Year’s Day

Take in a breath of fresh air for the new year.

Sound inviting?

Then take your pick of a few organized outdoor events happening on Whidbey Island Jan. 1.

Two state parks — Fort Ebey’s and Deception Pass — will host guided hikes as part of Washington State Park’s First Day Hikes. The chosen walks are not too difficult and include explanations about local geology, forests and other natural features.

But if you’d prefer to get all wet, why not take a dive in the Salish Sea? Hundreds of other lunatics are “shore” to join you.

Noon on New Year’s Day, South Whidbey Parks & Recreation hosts the 2018 Polar Bear Dive at Double Bluff Beach. The event, which includes hot drinks, music, warming fires and lots of hooting spectators, has become an annual rite of passage for many islanders.

In its 14th year, the Polar Bear Dive is one of the main fundraisers for Island County 4-H Teen Leadership Program.

About 200 people have participated in the past, “plus a bunch of spectators. Maybe just as many spectators,” said Carrie Monforte with South Whidbey Parks & Recreation.

“It’s definitely the ‘coolest’ way on Whidbey Island to jump into the new year,” said Jon Gabelian, advisor with the 4-H team who always takes the plunge.

“It’s a fun opportunity to come together to enjoy a crazy random adventure as a community and support Whidbey’s youth at the same time,” he said.

No polar bear swim or New Year’s run is scheduled for Oak Harbor this year.

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island holds its Polar Bear Plunge starting at 10:30 a.m. at Rocky Point Recreation Area.

First Day Hikes started in 2012 in Washington. The hikes are meant to entice individuals and families to take in the great outdoors, promote exercise and learn about the Evergreen State’s extensive park system.

“We started with seven parks the first year, and we’ll have three dozen parks doing First Day Hikes,” said Toni Weyman Droscher, spokesperson for Washington State Parks.

Actually, a few snowy parks are offering guided snowshoe walks and one is hosting a fat tire bike ride.

“We wanted a way for families to appreciate the outdoors and make it a tradition,” she said. “Also, we want to help support healthy lifestyles and healthy choices.”

The first day of the year is also one of 12 days during the year when state parks are free. The need to buy a Discover Pass ($30 annually or $10 daily) is waived.

Jason Armstrong, new manager at Deception Pass State Park, says he expects many to take advantage of the Discover Pass free day.

A smaller crowd is expected at Fort Ebey State Park on Central Whidbey, which has hosted First Day Hikes for a few years.

“At this year’s hike we will be talking about kettles and how they are formed and the forest ecosystem and how the glacier helped form the ecosystem,” said Janet Hall, interpretive specialist who’ll lead the two-mile hike.

Afterward, a simple science experiment is planned that will help explain what forces forged Whidbey’s unique landscape called kettles, Hall said.

Hot chocolate will be offered at both First Day hikes, courtesy of volunteer groups, called state park “friends” groups.

But don’t expect to warm up sipping cocoa in a bikini.

Chilly doesn’t even begin to describe some past New Year Day plunges, participants said.

“There’s been times when it was just crazy icy, wind,” Monforte said. “Or snow and ice piled up on the ground and where the air temperature is supposedly colder than the water temperature but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

“It’s probably our broadest age event, including dogs and people.”

Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. Cost is $15, which includes a t-shirt. The plunge officially begins at High Noon, New Year’s Day.

“It lasts at least 30 seconds,” Monforte said.

There’s no official prizes or wards given out, Monforte said. “Just bragging rights.”

Hikers descend a trail in Deception Pass State Park, which again will host a guided First Day Hike. It’s also a Discover Pass free day. Photo provided by Dave Wenning

Hikers descend a trail in Deception Pass State Park, which again will host a guided First Day Hike. It’s also a Discover Pass free day. Photo provided by Dave Wenning

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