The Polar Bear Plunges could not go on without the help of U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) personnel, who not only assist in preparing the dive site, but also remain on hand in the event of an emergency.

EAST TAWAS – Year after year, people come out in droves for the Perchville USA winter festival, gathering in the Tawases for a weekend of winter entertainment. With a variety of activities for all ages and personalities, it’s easy to see why the event continues to go strong after seven decades.

Presented by the Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce (TACC), Perchville just wrapped up a milestone anniversary, with the conclusion of the 70th annual festival this past weekend.

Following some pre-Perchville activities the prior weekend, the excitement picked back up on Thursday, Feb. 6, and went on through the evening of Saturday, Feb. 8. Despite temperatures barely inching out of the single digits on the final day, event goers were graced with fairly mild conditions, given the abundant sunshine and lack of wind.

Also enhancing the experience in 2020 was a change-up from the way some of the events have gone on in the past. This included moving the Hospitality Tent to just off of Newman Street, and switching the family tent activities to an indoor Family Expo at the East Tawas Community Center. Mother Nature also called some of the shots this year and, due to a lack of ice on Lake Huron, the Polar Bear Plunges were relocated next to the East Tawas State Dock.

Aside from just a couple of the events, this meant that attendees could enjoy all Perchville had to offer from one centralized, convenient location, as everything took place on or near Newman Street in downtown East Tawas.

Starting things up on Thursday was the Royal Feast at Rushman Hall, held in recognition of the 2020 Perchville King and Queen and Junior Royalty. In addition to a large meal, the evening was rounded out with live music from the Sip N Singers.

The feast was held for King and Queen Paul and Tracy Stevelinck, Tawas City; Junior King Donovan Nicklyn, Tawas City, a Holy Family School sixth grader; and Junior Queen McKenzie Nunn, East Tawas, a Tawas Area Middle School seventh grader.

Nominated for the honor based on their interest in the community, giving nature and other noteworthy characteristics, all four royalty members were spotlighted in last week’s edition of this publication. 

The regal lineup then had a busy weekend, as they reigned over a number of different Perchville events.

The itinerary for Friday’s festival goers consisted of a cornhole tournament and raffle drawings in the Hospitality Tent, a Perch Dinner Fish Fry by Knights of Columbus members and a Pre-Teen Dance for the younger crowd.

Saturday started up with the traditional Perchville Parade, that began in Tawas City and concluded in downtown East Tawas.

Spectators packed the sidewalks along Newman Street to watch such procession participants as Iosco County 4-H, the Tawas City and East Tawas fire departments, past and present Perchville Royalty, representatives of local businesses, the mayors of East Tawas and Tawas City, the Iosco County Sheriff’s Office, the Tawas Police Authority and Perchville’s polar bear mascot, Nanuk.

It took a while for the crowds to clear the streets, since the Chilly Cook-Off – hosted by the East Tawas Business Association – commenced immediately after the parade.

Hordes of hungry festival fans flocked to the 21 different businesses which took part in this year’s cook-off, as they taste tested the homemade batches and then voted for their favorite.

The first-place winner of the 2020 Chilly Cook-Off was Mooney’s Ben Franklin, followed by Tawas Bay Insurance Agency in second place and the Village Chocolatier in third.

Among those getting in on the tasty treats were a group of women from the “Stray Cats” Vintage Camping Club. Hailing from Linden, Garden City, East Tawas, Farmington Hills, Byron, Center Line and Southgate, the ladies have made Perchville an annual gathering for their group.

Bundled up in similar, fashionable attire for the affair, the women were spotted with their Chilly Cook-Off cozies, warming up before some of them also took the Polar Bear Plunge. Christine Harbin, Southgate, got even more of the full festival experience, as her Perchville button number earned her a $25 gift certificate to the Whitetail Cafe.

Each button is printed with its own number, and attendees were encouraged to check these at the participating businesses, to see if their number earned them a prize.

Opting to get their chili fill later on were those who took part in the Frozen Chosen shooting event, as they were preoccupied at the Iosco Sportsmen’s Club.

The 100-yard, military style shooting challenge brought in a noticeably larger crowd in 2020. This is good news for the American Legion Honor Guard, as all proceeds raised during Frozen Chosen are donated to the group.

The Winter Barrel Races at Dewey Durant Park were also getting underway at about the same time. The parking lot was jam-packed, with throngs of spectators coming out to cheer on the drivers of both modified and stock ATVs and side-by-sides.

According to Tammy Beckley,  there were 16 ATV drivers and four side-by-side competitors, with the winner being Braden Kauffman, Tawas City.

“He brought one of each and ended up winning both classes,” Beckley stated. “He won the $200 pot and then was very generous and donated $100 of it back to Perchville.”

Beckley added that Tawas Bay Marine & Cycle donated two maintenance packages, one of which went to Kauffman. When the official races wrapped up, everyone took part in a second race just for fun, and the other maintenance package went to the winner of that event.