For many, it’s challenge enough to brave the ocean waters of Maine during the summer months. And, for most, late autumn is when it is finally time to put to rest any notion of swimming until the next summer. Yet, on Chebeague Island, this is precisely the time when many of the teenagers and adults begin to prepare for their next swim – an annual plunge into Casco Bay in the middle of January. The “Polar Bear Plunge” is part of a weekend-long community winter carnival that acts as a fundraiser for the teen center at the Chebeague Recreational Center. Teenagers take responsibility for collecting pledges for the plunge, setting up a chili-and-chowder challenge and hosting a talent show and dance, all of which benefit the year-round teen center. The center, which sees 40-50 teenagers on most summer nights, is a safe place for 7th to 12th graders on Chebeague to hang out, play sports or watch television. The Chebeague Recreational Center, which is five years old, was built with the mission of creating this appealing space for the island teenagers. The Polar Bear Plunge is the teen center’s largest and most important fundraiser. Part of the proceeds go towards a teen spring trip. Past trips have included whitewater rafting on the Kennebec River and a train ride to Boston for a ballgame.

The 2003 Chebeague Island Winter Carnival is planned for Jan. 17-18. The Polar Bear Plunge will take place at noon on Saturday the 18th, followed by a community chili-and-chowder challenge. Now is the time to begin preparing – if you are interested in either plunging or pledging, please call the Chebeague Recreational Center at 846-5608, or send your tax-deductible pledges to the Chebeague Recreational Center, 382 North Road, Chebeague Island, ME 04017. For more information on the polar bear plunge or any of the Rec Center’s programs, please visit We can match you up with one of the teenagers who has decided to brave the icy waters. We already have plungers from afar, so don’t be shy – and don’t wait until next July to take a swim!

Leah McDonald is an Island Institute Fellow on Chebeague.