Monday, February 19, 2007

The Show Must Go On -Dog Sled Race in the Tradition of the old Gunflint Mail Run

You can cancel the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon but you can’t take away the passion for the race altogether.

Grand Marais, MN- The 25th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon will not happen as scheduled in 2007, but a race will happen in its place. The Beargrease was postponed and then cancelled altogether due to the lack of snow in Duluth, MN. The Beargrease Board of Directors decided it would not be "fair" to the sponsors to run the race entirely in a remote area so they cancelled it. According to Sue Prom, Voyageur Canoe Outfitter, at the end of the Gunflint Trail, "What the Board may have forgotten is the strong tradition isn’t just about the sponsors; it’s about the mushers, the volunteers, the dogs, and the spectators."

"While running a race in a remote area may not give sponsors the biggest bang for their buck, it doesn’t seem to make all that big of a difference to everyone else." Prom continues, "The Gunflint Trail is a remote area that has not only traditionally been a part of the Marathon, the Gunflint is the home of the old Gunflint Mail Run- the forerunner to the Beargrease.

The Mail Run was run from 1977 until 1980 taking various routes along the Gunflint Trail. In 1980 the organizers of the Mail Run, at the urging and later sponsorship of WDSM-Radio in Duluth, put-together a new Dog Sled Race. Starting in Grand Marais with a mass start and ending just outside of Duluth, the 1st Annual Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, as the new race was billed, took place on March 15 and 16, 1980, and the Beargrease was born.

Ted Young, owner of Poplar Creek B&B and one of the organizers of the Mail Run states that, "there is going to be a dog sled race this year on the Gunflint. While the race may not be the official Beargrease, it follows in the footsteps of the Beargrease's predecessors- the Gunflint Mail Run. Even while the route of the Mail Run changed each year, the old Finn Lake Road (now the Little Ollie Road) was always part of the race's route. Since the return of the Beargrease to the Gunflint Trail the race is again using this road to get on to Poplar Lake and Trail Center. Part of this year's race route will continue this tradition and travel along the old Finn Lake Road to Poplar Lake."

This year's race will start at 10:00 am, on Sunday, February 25. Instead of racing as scheduled from Duluth, mushers will race on up the Gunflint Trail. Beginning with a mass-start at Devils Track Landing Resort, the race will follow along much of the original old Gunflint Mail Run route. Plans are to have two race classes- a long race and short race. The dogs on the long race well run up to and through Trail Center on Poplar Lake continue on to Gunflint Lake then return and finish at Trail Center. The shorter race will also start at Devils Track and finish at Trail Center without continuing on up to Gunflint Lake.

There are already over thirty teams interested in participating in the one-day event as well as many volunteers to help coordinate the race. Sarah Hamilton, owner of Trail Center on the Gunflint Trail is no stranger to dog racing or the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. Her business has been a rest stop for the marathon and she along with many others wants to see the tradition of the sled dog race continue this year. According to Hamilton, "With the help of eager volunteers and business owners on the Gunflint Trail there will be a dog sled race this year on the Gunflint.

Race aficionados, mushers, dogs and volunteers get ready for a sled dog race on the Gunflint Trail. The prizes may not be as big as the Beargrease, the media coverage will surely be small, but the hearts of the people involved will be big. After all, sled dog racing isn’t about the sponsors, it’s all about passion, a passion that can only be found in the hearts of those who love mushing. The people on the Gunflint Trail love mushing, so with open arms and welcome hearts there will be a dog sled race on Sunday, February 25th, 2007.

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