A new, more user-friendly venue for the Jan. 25 Polar Plunge has generated excitement among the staff of Crowley's Ridge State Park and planners for the event.

"We're going to be using the swim beach at Lake Ponder this year," said Park Superintendent John Stewart. "There are better facilities, there are heated areas and it's going to be easier to get in and out."

Stewart added that the park would attempt to have the lake's water slide operational for the Plunge.

"That way," he said, "any of the people that want to make a 'grand entrance' can do so."

According to the Facebook page for the Polar Plunge, the event runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p..m. Registration begins at 11 a.m. and the actual plunge starts at 1 p.m.

Participants may plunge as teams or as individuals. Teams and individuals are invited to be creative and enter the costume contest, as well.

The Polar Plunge is a fundraiser in which individuals and teams take the plunge into various bodies of water -- typically cold water -- to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics Arkansas. The event is hosted jointly by Area 1 of Special Olympic Arkansas and the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Arkansas.

The minimum donation to plunge is $50. Plungers can register at www.firstgiving.com/soar and create a personal fundraising web page to collect donations from family, friends and co-workers. Each participant will receive a long-sleeve T-shirt. Participants reaching additional fundraising levels will earn additional incentives.

Area 1 Director Vonnie Greer said expressed delight at this year's change from the usual location, Walcott Lake.

"We're very excited," she said. "This is our 15th year to do the Polar Plunger and we have been wanting to do it at Lake Ponder for years."

Greer said that in the past, however, Lake Ponder had been drained in the winter months, making it unusable.

"So we had to use the boat ramp at Walcott Lake," she said.

The use of Lake Ponder, on the other hand, permits participants to wade in, to dive in, or to use the water slide, as described by Stewart for that "grand entrance."

Greer said that last year, there were between 75 and 100 participants in the Polar Plunge.

"We won't know who we will get this year until they show up," she said. "It pretty much depends on the weather. If it's nice, we'll have a good turnout. But if it's raining -- or snowing -- not so much."

According to the National Weather Service's long-range forecast for Jan. 21-28, there is a 33 percent chance of "below normal" precipitation for all but the southwest corner of Arkansas. That area is forecast to have normal precipitation.

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