Mush acclaim as U.P. 200 returns to downtown

Sled+dog+teams+bolt+from+the+start+as+crowds+cheered+them+on+at+last+years+UP+200+on+Washington+Street.

Photographer:CHENMINHAO

Sled dog teams bolt from the start as crowds cheered them on at last year’s UP 200 on Washington Street.

Jackie Jahfetson

Truckloads of snow will be dumped onto the pavement of Washington Street early Friday morning and packed down into a racetrack for one of Upper Peninsula’s most spectated events of the season. Wooden barricades will be planted on both sides of the street to keep the few thousand people huddled along the track, as paws align at the starting gate to depart on a long journey through Michigan wilderness.

The 29th annual U.P. 200 will kick off on Friday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. in front of The Mining Journal on Washington Street. A total of 19 teams in the U.P. 200 will travel 230 miles through a vast wooded landscape from Marquette to Grand Marais and back again.

Many local businesses and organizations such as NMU will host warming tents for spectators to stay comfortable and warm. For the fourth year in a row, NMU will provide heat along with free hot chocolate and cookies from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday near the Old City Hall Building on Washington Street.

The U.P. 200 is not only a fun-filled weekend for the family, but also an opportunity for NMU students and others to experience the U.P. culture, said Derek Hall, NMU chief marketing officer of marketing and communications.
“It’s amazing how many people show up at the start of the race,” Hall said. “It’s a lot of fun and a unique event. Most small towns don’t have a dog-sled race.”

With each musher racing with 12 dogs, the teams will not only have to face the snow and cold, they’ll have to put their strengths to the test against the U.P.’s isolated woods, hilly terrain and creek crossings. On the first leg of their journey, the teams will travel about 64 miles until they reach Wetmore, where they’ll go through a checkpoint and follow a mandatory rest of at least five hours at Timber Products on Michigan Highway-28.
On Saturday, the teams will push on toward the halfway point in Grand Marais, then turn around and head back toward Marquette on another about 60-mile stretch. The race will come to a close when the dogs cross the finish line at Lower Harbor Park in Marquette from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 19.

The U.P. 200 always attracts a big audience and brings forth an energetic and exciting vibe to the Marquette community in the dead of winter, Hall said. As one of the major local organizations in the area, NMU strives to get involved, he noted.

“It’s a tradition,” Hall continued. “Northern is unique and a dog sled race is a way to show our uniqueness.”

This event not only attracts a big crowd but a number of volunteers as well, he said. Many NMU students lend a hand by directing traffic, crowd control and assisting mushers at the start of the race.

With the amount of dedication mushers and volunteers devote to this event, the community gets to see something they wouldn’t normally see, Hall said.

“It’s amazing what mushers do. It’s not a money-making sport,” he said. “It’s just a very interesting way of life.”

For many, the U.P. 200 is like a “big party” that attracts between 3,000 to 5,000 people each year, said Darlene Walch, president of the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association (UPSDA). Despite what the temperature may be, the energy on Friday night is always lively between the people cheering and the dogs barking, Walch said.

“In a winter venue, this is a really spectacular type of event. It blends human athletes with canine athletes in a unique relationship. Watching that is a pretty spectacular thing to see,” Walch said.

Following the U.P. 200, the Midnight Run will begin 30 minutes after the last musher leaves from the previous race but not before 8:30 p.m. With eight-dog teams, the Midnight Run covers a track of 90 miles from Marquette to Chatham and returns back to Marquette on Saturday around 9:30 a.m. at Mattson Lower Harbor Park.

The last race of the weekend, the Jack Pine 30, starts on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Gwinn at Larry’s Family Foods and will finish at the First Baptist Church on North Billings Street in Gwinn. With 4 to 6 dogs on each team, the Jack Pine 30 covers a track of approximately 26 miles.

For more information on how to get involved or to see the complete schedule of this year’s sled dog race events, visit up200.org.