WEEDVILLE — The annual Polar Plunge at the Medix Hotel on the Quehanna Highway in Weedville has seen a lot of growth in it’s 13 year history, but according to owner Peggy DeCarli, that growth has come at a cost.
In recent years, the annual event, in which swimmers brave winter temperatures for a dip in the East Branch Sinnemahoning Creek, has drawn an estimated 600 to 700 participants and spectators. The number is a far cry from the first year when three men asked if they could jump in the creek.
“It’s grown every year,” DeCarli said.
While the growing crowds have resulted in some good things, increased business at area businesses during a traditionally slow season and events to benefit a charitable cause those crowds have also come at a cost to both the hotel and neighbors.
“It was a win-win for everybody,” DeCarli said. “No one was ever charged anything. They came here and it was fun and it cost them nothing and that wasn’t a problem. I allow a food truck on the property for people and I sell food.”
“What has happened the last three years is it has become a tailgate party,” DeCarli said. “They bring their own drinks. They bring their own food. Last year, they took my wood, built a bonfire and cooked hot dogs. Last year, I didn’t even break even and it was our biggest attendance.”
Meanwhile, DeCarli cited incidents of vandalism inside the hotel, on neighboring properties and to vehicles at the event, incidents she said she has tried to compensate other victims for.
As a result, a decision was made to charge a $3 fee to attend the event in an effort to cover costs rather than cancel it altogether.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people who come are absolutely awesome,” DeCarli said. “But that one percent ruins it for everyone. It’s such a small percentage. So we’re going to try this.”
DeCarli says she bears some responsibility for the shift, citing limited room inside the hotel itself and long waits to be served.
“I take some responsibility because people were waiting 45 minutes for a drink,” she said. “I see both sides of it.”
She said she is attempting to compensate for some of those issues by ensuring better staffing and opening up space inside the hotel.
Meanwhile, DeCarli has still invited a food truck to attend, Stromboli Land of Clearfield; and is still welcoming a charity to attend, the Allegheny Spay and Neuter Clinic.
Money to benefit charities at the event has traditionally been generated through raffles, something DeCarli notes the hotel legally can’t have a hand in and have been done by the organization.
She said she is hoping the changes and fee will allow the event to continue.
“The only thing we could think of as an alternative to cancelling was the $3 fee,” DeCarli said. “I’m hoping the changes we’ve made will be better for everyone. I just hope it goes well and there’s no issues. If not, we’ll continue it and continue to improve.”