Hundreds of people turned out for last Saturday's winter festival held in Mercer Park.
Because it was a chilly day, many people gathered around the constant bonfire watching the families beyond the basketball court build snowmen for the contest. While others anxiously waited in line for tickets to sample chili from Baldwinsville restaurants (including the Mohegan Manor, B'ville Diner and Pucello's at Foxfire), firemen loaded Christmas trees and pallets onto the fire. Meanwhile, volunteers ventured in their waders through the river trying to break up the ice that had formed on the shore to prepare for the 20 or so individuals who would later run, jump, fall and dive into the freezing water as part of the polar bear plunge. A huge chunk of ice floated down stream headed for Paper Mill Island.
Guest judges for the chili cook-off, including Lysander Supervisor Barry Bullis, Van Buren Supervisor Claude Sykes and Wayne Mahar, the chief meteorologist from WSTM NBC TV, awarded the Ironwood Golf Course Restaurant with the distinction of most original chili. The people's choice award went to the Silver Fox Senior Social Club.
While some enjoyed the chili, children were at the playground enjoying the new equipment. Soon after, people began to gather around the shoreline for the polar bear plunge.
Plunge participants exited a heated tent and began to form a line through the crowd to wait for their name to be called. Polar bears Dawn Custer and Jack Baker were the first two to take the plunge, leading a stream of individuals dressed in summertime attire in the frigid weather. Everyone's means of entry varied -- there were divers, belly-floppers and those who just fell backwards. After about a half an hour, all the polar bears had gone in -- some even twice -- and they all survived.