After more than a dozen years of swimmers dipping their toes into icy water at Shepard Park Beach in Lake George, the Polar Plunge is moving south.
But don’t expect a warmer climate — the popular New Year’s Day dip is relocating a stone’s throw away to Million Dollar Beach on the southern tip of Lake George.
Shepard Park Beach is being treated for invasive Asian clams with mats covering the ground at the shoreline. The mats are designed to cut off the clams’ air supply and are weighed down with rebar and sandbags, said Linda Duffy, co-chairwoman of the Lake George Winter Carnival Committee, which organizes the Polar Plunge.
The mats and rebar would be dangerous for swimmers, and the people moving about could disturb the mats, negating their purpose in killing the tiny nonnative clams.
So the committee decided on Million Dollar Beach as the alternative.
“That’s the only other place we can really have it,” Duffy said.
The carnival committee also considered holding the plunge at the so-called Dog Beach in between Million Dollar Beach and the steamboat company’s docks, but that’s not the best option because of nearby construction.
The committee still needs to get the state to approve permits to have the plunge on state property, and it believes that will happen before Jan. 1, Duffy said.
Installation of the mats began in late November and workers finished on Friday, said Dave Wick, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission.
“The beach is entirely covered from the north to the south,” Wick said.
The mats will stay on the beach through May and be removed by Memorial Day, he said.
Shepard Park Beach doesn’t have a full infestation of clams, but there are some living there, something officials want to put to an end.
“We’re hoping for 100 percent kill with the matting efforts right now,” Wick said.
The beach will be open, in a modified way, for the Winter Carnival in February.
On Jan. 1, two Lake George school buses will be available to shuttle people from Shepard Park Beach to Million Dollar Beach and back, so people can park in the village to register starting at 9:30 a.m. at Duffy’s Tavern as usual and then easily get to the plunge site.
Organizers prefer that most people park in the village and perhaps shop or eat before or after the event, Duffy said.
“The purpose is to bring business into the village,” she said.
As usual, the plunge will be held in heats of about 500 people, with the first group running into the water at 1 p.m., earlier than usual. Each heat after that will enter the water a half-hour apart.
The crowds taking the plunge have gotten bigger over the years, with 1,382 registering for the 2012 plunge.
Some years, there’s ice ringing the beach and a thick layer of snow covering the sand. Other years, New Year’s Day is almost balmy in comparison.
As expected, warm weather brings more people, Duffy said: “If it’s 60 degrees out, we may get more people out than usual.”
In the past two years, the air temperature was in the low 40s for the plunge and the water temperature hung around 35 degrees.
The plunge is free, but there’s a $10 donation to get a long-sleeved T-shirt with the event logo.
No alcohol is allowed in the buses or on the beach. Swimmers are asked to wear sneakers or water shoes.
Organizers don’t mind relocating the event because it’s in the best interest of the lake and summer tourism, Duffy said.
“The lake is an important part of us, and whatever they have to do, they have to do,” she said.
The positive thing about the beach closure is that it raises awareness with the public about the invasive species in Lake George, Wick said: “We’re going to have some people out there talking a little bit about it.”