ELY- Once known as the “Sled Dog Capital of America,” Ely will mark five decades of sled dog racing history in the community this year during the 12th running of the WolfTrack Classic …
ELY- Once known as the “Sled Dog Capital of America,” Ely will mark five decades of sled dog racing history in the community this year during the 12th running of the WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race on Feb. 22 and 23. Ely earned its former honorific during the historic Ely All-American Championship race series that started fifty years ago and continued into the late 1980s.
The race weekend, hosted by the Ely Chamber of Commerce, begins on Saturday, Feb. 22 with a special celebration of Ely’s long history with the sport. “Will Mother Nature deliver 30 inches of new snow for race week, or will she unleash powerful winds, snow and blowing snow?” asked Race Director Ellen Cashman.
The Musher Dinner starts at 4 p.m. on Feb. 22 and goes until 6:30 p.m. at Vermilion Community College cafeteria. “The Vermilion Community College Wilderness Club will be serving a hearty spaghetti dinner,” Cashman said. The public is invited, and tickets are available at the door: $10 for adults, $5 for youth 10-and-under, and $5 for VCC students with a student ID. All proceeds will go to the Wilderness Club.
“A special part of the 2020 Musher Dinner will be the celebration of 50 years of sled dog racing here with the recognition of local legends. Don and Val Beland, and others who raced the All-American, will be on hand for the event. Don and Val will speak about the history of the Ely All-American Sled Dog Championship Race and their involvement in that history,” she said.
Also at the dinner, racer bib numbers will be announced for the 2020 participating teams and the bibs presented. The mandatory musher meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m.
A new event this year is the Ely Art Benefit for the WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race.
The Art Benefit will open at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, Feb. 22, at the Grand Ely Lodge, and will remain open on Sunday through the awards ceremony. “There will be original sled dog art by local watercolor artist Nancy Ensley and photographic artist Roy Misonznick,” Cashman said. “Roy and Nancy are generously donating 50 percent of their proceeds to help support the race. There will also be a silent auction with art items from other Ely artists.”
The vet checks start at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Ely Chamber of Commerce. “There is no parking other than for dog teams at the Chamber office, and please leave your pets at home,” Cashman added.
The WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race is a mid-distance race with two classes, a six-dog, 30-mile race and an eight-dog, 50-mile race. Both races leave from the Ely Softball Complex on Sunday morning, Feb. 23, starting at 9 a.m.
“The race once again runs on the Taconite Trail through the beautiful and challenging terrain of the Superior National Forest and through a portion of Bear Head State Park and crosses Bear Head Lake,” Cashman said.
“The race start is an exciting place for race followers and spectators,” she added. “Teams arrive at 7 a.m. and begin preparing equipment and the super-charged canine athletes who have known from the time they were loaded in their dog boxes, that they are going to get to do their favorite thing - run, run, run!”
The dog team area and spectator area at the start line are full of color, pageantry and a mix of excited, barks, howls and yips mixed with the announcing of the teams coming to the start line. The Ely Softball Complex is located on the east side of town off Highway 1.
When the teams are all on the trail, there are spectator opportunities along the racecourse, on the Highway 1 and Highway 21 crossings, both outbound and inbound.
“A wonderful opportunity to see the eight-dog teams in action is the warming shelter in Bear Head State Park, which is positioned as the teams step on land after a potentially challenging lake crossing,” Cashman said. Spectators must have a state park sticker, available at the park, to watch from there.
The race finish line is also at the softball complex. “Finish times are dependent on trail conditions and the weather, and we could see teams back in Ely as early as 12:30 p.m.,” Cashman said.
“When the last team crosses the finish line, mushers and everyone else head to the Grand Ely Lodge for the awards presentation, musher prize drawings, drinks, a specially-prepared musher menu by Grand Ely Lodge chefs and Tales of the Trail. This all happens in the Ridgeview Room,” she said.
“We thank the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the United States Forest Service and the city of Ely, for their support in this community event,” Cashman added.
For more information, including biographies of the racers, go to www.wolftrackclassic.com. Race registration closes on Saturday, Feb. 15.