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

Take in the outdoors on New Year’s Day

Go for a hike or dive in for a dip

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

Sound inviting?

Then have 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.

The cost is $15, which includes a t-shirt “while they last,” said Carrie Monforte, recreation supervisor for the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District.

About 200 people have participated in the past, “plus a bunch of spectators. Maybe just as many spectators,” she said.

“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.

On the North End, there will be some icy sailors at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Its holding its annual Polar Bear Plunge at 10:30 a.m. Rocky Point Recreation Area

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.

Following the hike, 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’s Day plunges at Double Bluff in Freeland, 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 awards given out, Monforte said. “Just bragging rights.”

Go take a hike

Fort Ebey State Park Guided Hike: 10-11:30 a.m., Jan. 1, Fort Ebey State Park, 400 Hill Valley Drive, Coupeville. Explore the interaction of the forest and what a “kettle” is and how they shaped the landscape. This is a moderate two-mile hike with up and down hills and stops along the way. Recommend for adults and kids 8 or older.

Meet at the Beach Access restroom. Look for sandwich board signs. Arrive at 9:30 a.m. to enjoy hot cocoa, cookies and a campfire provided by the Friends of Whidbey State Parks. It is a Discover Pass free day. More information:

Deception Pass State Park First Day Hike: 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Jan. 1, Deception Pass State Park- West Beach Shelter. This year’s First Day Hike will take place at the Sand Dunes Interpretive Trail at West Beach. Starting at the West Beach Shelter, Park staff will guide hikers around the Sand Dunes Interpretive Trail loop. This is a paved trail that is ADA and stroller accessible, with a few minor bumps.

Along the way, find great views of the Salish Sea, travel though dune forests, wetlands, sandy beach, and visit one of the oldest trees in the Park. Afterward, take a stroll across the parking lot to check out our newly finished amphitheater, and maybe even a self-guided hike through the North Beach Trail to the bridge.

Remember to dress in layers and wear hiking shoes. Bring snacks, water and a good attitude! Rain or shine. Back at the West Beach Shelter, the Deception Pass Park Foundation will offer warm drinks and snacks. More information: www.deceptionpassfoundation.org, 360-675-3767.

C’mon, the water’s fine

2018 Whidbey Island Polar Bear Dive: 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Jan 1., Double Bluff Beach Park, Freeland. 14th annual dip in the cold water on the first day of the year. Sign-up begins 10:30 a.m. Cost: $15, includes t-shirts ‘while they last.’

Plunge into water: Noon. Hot drinks, small warming fires and music. Sponsored by South Whidbey Parks & Recreation and benefits Island County 4-H Teen Leadership Program.

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