Overseen by members of U.S. Coast Guard Station Tawas, the Perchville Polar Bear Plunge is a well-attended festival tradition. For $20, daring divers jump into Lake Huron, after which they take home a souvenir T-shirt to remember their frigid feat.

EAST TAWAS – Mother Nature pulled through at the last moment to ensure a comfortable experience was had by attendees of the 69th annual Perchville USA winter festival.

Bitter cold, poor driving conditions and significant snowfall pummeled the Tawases in the days leading up to Perchville. But, as the excitement rose for the event, so too did the temperatures.

There was still a chilly bite in the air on Saturday, but temperatures ultimately reached the mid-20s and the weather was much more pleasant than it had been in recent days. The event was graced with an even warmer day on the Feb. 3 festival finale.

Hosted by the Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce, the four-day celebration began on Jan. 31 with the Royal Feast at Mr. Jack’ss Sports Bar & Grill.

Attendees gathered for food, fellowship and to celebrate the 2019 Perchville Royalty members – King Jerry Malone, Queen Annge Horning, Junior King Maximus Buyssens and Junior Queen Mahcayla Nichols.

The regal representatives – who presided over a number of festival activities – were nominated for the honor due to their community involvement, selfless dedication to helping others and additional attributes.

The second day of the festival on Friday, Feb. 1, welcomed back the Knights of Columbus perch dinner fish fry, as well as the cornhole tournament in the hospitality tent.

A new event, the pre-teen dance at the Tawas Masonic Temple, was also hosted on Friday and was organized by Tawas Ravens Youth Football and Cheerleading.

Visitors to the Tawases on Saturday, Feb. 2, got the most bang for their buck, as this is when the majority of Perchville festivities were held.

Following the kick off of the fishing challenge that morning, Christ Episcopal Church members welcomed festival goers to their annual bake sale.

Volunteer and member Lou Stoll said that some of the goodies were still hot when they were dropped off by bakers that day and, after less than two hours of opening the doors, volunteers were already on their last layer of treats.

As the sale continued, visitors made their way to downtown East Tawas for the Perchville Parade, which commenced from the Tawas City Fire Department.

Among the procession participants were representatives of local law enforcement and fire departments, area businesses, Perchville Royalty and Iosco County 4-H.

Corey and Amber McKinley, Clarkston, attended the parade with their four children and the entire family sported hand-knit fish hats, which they bought last fall in a fundraiser for Iosco Coats for Kids.

Corey, whose parents reside in the Tawas area, said he and his family are frequent visitors to the community during Perchville and other events. He added that he and his wife love the area, their children love it and the Tawases will always be a big part of their lives.

Once the parade wrapped up, downtown was teeming with people who made their rounds to the participating Chilly Cook-Off businesses.

As taste testers were enjoying their samples during the 25th annual cook-off, others had a chance to get in on the Frozen Chosen shooting event at the Iosco Sportsmen’s Club.

The 100-yard, military-style activity raises funds for the American Legion Honor Guard, and sends the winner home with bragging rights.

A different type of contest took place on Saturday also, with the ATV drag races at Dewey Durant Park.

The barrel race-style, triple elimination event pitted drivers against one another in their attempt to win the cash purse. Organizers note that the finalists opted to give back their earnings to be invested into next year’s event.

The first place winner was Brian Plawecki, Tawas City, who was undefeated all day, while fellow Tawas City resident Braden Kauffman came in second.

For those seeking a variety of entertainment, the Perchville Family Tent was open all day long and offered dancing, music, games, prizes, gift raffles, petting zoo animals, face painting, snacks and more.

The family tent is also where participants could sign up for the fourth annual Teen Scavenger Hunt, which tasks participants with correctly solving a series of clues in the fastest amount of time.

The DNR boat launch in East Tawas was a popular stop for festival goers, as well, with a huge crowd forming Saturday afternoon for the first round of Polar Bear Plunges.

Once again, the divers didn’t disappoint as they leapt into Lake Huron through a hole cut in the ice – while bringing along fun props and donning colorful wigs and costumes.

Overseen by members of U.S. Coast Guard Station Tawas, Polar Bear Plunge participants all earned a keepsake T-shirt to remember their brave act.

For those who preferred staying warm indoors, the hospitality tent near East Tawas Harbor Park was open for eight hours on Saturday and featured entertainment by No Baloney and Black Sheep. 

The festival goers who made it in time for the sold out murder mystery dinner that evening also had some indoor Perchville fun.

Presented by the Tawas Bay Players and Knights of Columbus, the interactive whodunit offered guests a chance at additional prizes when they were asked a series of Michigan-themed trivia questions.

Written and directed by Michal Jacot, Murder in Michigan was produced by Sue Duncan and made possible by a number of businesses which donated gifts and supplies to the function.

The 69th annual festival concluded on Sunday with one final Polar Bear Plunge, as well as the weigh-in and awards ceremony for the Fishing Challenge participants.

Competitors could fish any body of water in Iosco County, during a two-day period, after which those who reeled in the largest catches could claim a variety of prizes.

First through third place awards were handed out in the adult group, as well as the age group of those 16 and younger, for the longest perch, walleye, bluegill/sunfish, pike and trout.

The results of the Fishing Challenge and other various Perchville contests will be printed in next week’s edition of this publication.

With the slew of activities available, it’s no wonder why people are drawn to the festival from near and far. For example, one visitor made a trip all the way from Finland to take part in the Polar Bear Plunge.

But the pull of Perchville may be most evident with Kim Lienau, Allen Park, and Mike Shoup, Riverview, who attended their first Perchville USA festival last year.

As reported during the 2018 event, it was because of Perchville and other activities in the Tawases  that the two said they wanted to buy a house in the area.

Lienau and Shoup returned for the annual event this past weekend – only this time, they did so from their new place on Washington Street in East Tawas.

“We’ll be up here for all the parties now,” Lienau said.