WHAT: A benefit for Haywood Waterways Association
WHERE: Lake Junaluska Assembly beach
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 4, at 11:30 a.m. (registration at 10 a.m.)
WHY: “I won’t lie: It burns and stings when you first jump in,” Polar Plunge organizer Eric Romaniszyn says of the main attraction at his fundraiser: a wintertime dip in Lake Junaluska. “But about 10 minutes [after getting out], a complete state of euphoria comes, and I’ve never felt more relaxed.”
The unorthodox tradition is upheld at fundraisers internationally, and Romaniszyn’s local iteration benefits the Haywood Waterways Association, where he serves as the executive director. A majority of proceeds — which he hopes will top $30,000 — have been earmarked for the nonprofit’s Kids in the Creek program.
“It’s a hands-on learning experience for all Haywood County public school eighth-graders,” he says, noting a focus on water quality and aquatic ecosystems. “This year was our 19th year, and we estimate the program has reached nearly 13,000 students. It is consistently one of the more memorable experiences students have from middle school, and we have survey data that shows it has measurable impacts on raising environmentally responsible behaviors in students.”
Funds may also support Haywood Waterways’ Leaders in the Creek program (similar content geared toward influential community members), erosion and sediment control trainings, stream cleanups, storm drain stenciling, exotic and invasive plant removals, school and public presentations, events, publications and more.
At Lake Junaluska, plungers will have at least two bonfires to choose from while drying off, and a free chili lunch will be provided to all. Romaniszyn has also sourced door prizes, some of which he’ll reserve for the top fundraisers (individuals, school teams and community groups) and those with the best costumes (shoes and shirt required).
Participation in the Polar Plunge includes a T-shirt and costs $25 ($10 under 18), which can be paid by the entrant or crowdfunded online beyond the minimum fee. Spectating is free. Visit haywoodwaterways.org for more information.