Dashing dogs to return to the UP 200 race

Dashing dogs to return to the UP 200 race

Joseph Living

Last year was my first winter in the Upper Peninsula and it surprised me. Coming from the very metropolitan area of Lansing, I was worried not only about the amount of snow the U.P. got but what kind of effect that would have on the people that lived here. Would that slow down business and everyday activities? What I found was that winters in the U.P. are completely manageable. The wicked cold opens up a world of outdoor recreation that I thought was reserved for that of the northernmost parts of the world. Things like skiing and snowshoeing are commonplace, but what was most surprising, was the dog sled race my friends dragged me downtown for on a cold February night of last year. I found a massive group of people cheering happily surrounding the downtown area. Dog sled use was vital in some parts of North America in the past but now is generally a recreational activity with competitions held all over the country. The UP 200, Midnight Run and Jack Pine 30 are a series of notable dog sledding competitions that take place in the U.P. every winter.

The UP 200, the largest of the competitions spanning a distance of 238 miles, is notable due to its starting and finishing location of downtown Marquette. This year’s UP 200 will feature 12 unique dog sled teams and will take place from Feb. 15 to the 17. Founded in the late 1980’s, the UP 200 was the brainchild of several Marquette families who originally put together the race as well as acquire the necessary funding and support. Since its founding, the race has been going strong and is a qualifying race for the Iditarod dog sled race that takes place in Alaska.

Secretary of the UP 200 for 29 years, Pam Forsberg, said her favorite part of being involved with the race is forming and sustaining relationships with the mushers and volunteers.

“You become friends with a lot of the mushers and volunteers that return every year and form close relationship with the sponsors,” Forsberg said. “It is such a wonderful winter event that draws many people downtown.”

The mushers must complete the race that spans from Marquette to Grand Marais and back in record time while stopping at checkpoints along the way. The mushers make their way through various trail systems proving their abilities over the cold U.P. country side. The race isn’t just exciting for those who are in it, however. The race draws in thousands of people from all over the Midwest as well as the country that want to come see the event. The downtown portion of Washington Street is completely blocked off, and contrary to every other day of the year, is willfully piled up with snow.

“Climate change, eh? I hope that it’s a safe one for everyone,” Forsberg said with a laugh.

The polar vortex could be an issue, Forsberg said, but mushers train in all sorts of weather and are used to adapting to a variety of weather conditions. Large influxes of snow creates a deep base which makes for a slower race, Forsberg said. In her 29 years of being secretary and treasurer of the race, she said it’s one of the only free events that attracts an impressive amount of spectators and volunteers. Last year’s volunteer count totaled to around 800, and Forsberg said this year should live up to those expectations. Spectators can see up close as the dog sled teams go off one by one into the cold winter night.