The Polar Bear Swim at Gyro Park circa 1989. Photo: Trail Historical Society

The Polar Bear Swim at Gyro Park circa 1989. Photo: Trail Historical Society

Trail Blazers: Past ‘polar bears’ who took the plunge

Trail Blazers is a weekly feature in partnership with the Trail Museum and Archives

With COVID-19 restrictions cancelling the annual tradition of brrrr-bringing in the New Year with an icy dip in the river at Gyro Park, this week’s Trail Blazers feature is wistfully recalling the pre-pandemic Jan. 1 tradition of the Polar Bear Swim — and hoping the cool custom returns next year.

“A few nice days for a dip!” begins Sarah Benson-Lord, Trail Museum and Archives, manager.

“Pulled from the 1989 Trail Times, with the sun shining and the temperature hovering around minus five (-5 C), 10 hardy souls cavorted into the icy Columbia River at Gyro Park for the second annual Polar Bear swim,” she continues.

“One swimmer commented, while shivering in a blanket, ‘I feel better now than when I got up this morning.’”

The Trail Times considered this brave activity “a great cure for a hangover.”

Comparatively, the last time the Trail Polar Bear Swim went on Jan. 1, 2020, 122 people took the plunge.

For a number of years the 44-Engineer Squadron have organized the event, which included building a huge bonfire on the beach for swimmers to warm their limbs post-plunge as well as refreshments and a chance to win prizes.

The Trail Polar Bear Swim officially began in 1987 at Gyro Park.

Did you participate in those early years?

Read more: Trail Blazers

Read more: Photos from 2020 Polar Bear Swim



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The year before (1988) at minus 4, these brave souls took the plunge on a bright morning. Photo: Trail Historical Society

The year before (1988) at minus 4, these brave souls took the plunge on a bright morning. Photo: Trail Historical Society