WEST CHESTER—For many, an annual rite of winter is taking a dip in the icy Brandywine River in a swimsuit in near freezing temperatures.
But that decade-old tradition will take a hiatus this year.
The Polar Plunge, an annual fundraiser for the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance, has been cancelled this year. It typically takes place in February at the banks of the Brandywine River at the Brandywine Picnic Park just outside of West Chester.
But the 22-acre Brandywine Picnic Park is listed for sale at $1.4 million, and Jim Jordan, executive director of the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance, said he could not find a suitable location, despite a search that included nearly two dozen potential sites.
"The Brandywine Picnic Park was just perfect for us, because it had plenty of asphalt for parking. We haven't' been able to come up with a spot along the Brandywine River that has suitable parking.
Jordan said easy access to parking is the key because the event draws several hundred people.
"People have recommended ponds," Jordan said. "But the trouble with ponds is that there can be open water one day, but if the temperature drops 30 degrees, you are out with a chain saw the next day trying to cut ice. Ponds freeze up too quickly."
Jordan said he looked at sites like the First State National Historic Park at Beaver Valley, put parking there is limited to 20 cars, and people would have to be bused in.
"I never thought it would be this difficult to come up with another location, but it is," Jordan said. "We are really disappointed."
The loss of the Polar Plunge will cost the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance tens of thousands of dollars, but Jordan said the organization budgeted for not having it this year.
But more than that, Jordan said, is that the event gives great exposure to the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance in that it typically draws a huge media presence.
Now, the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, is focusing on other events this year. There's the Red Clay Cleanup in March and stream restoration project will soon begin.
Over the past 10 years, the Polar Plunge has raised nearly $150,000 and attracted more than 1,800 plungers. The plunge is the annual fundraiser for the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance and helps raise awareness about their work for the Brandywine Creek Watershed and helps to protect and conserve the natural resources of the Brandywine and Red Clay Valleys.
"Our plan is to bring it back in 2021," Jordan said.