ELY - The 10-year anniversary of Ely’s own WolfTrack Classic sled dog race will run on Sunday, Feb. 25. New this year, both races will start and finish in Ely.
Local musher Nancy Ensley was in town with her Siberian Husky team last Saturday at Whiteside Park during the Winter Festival as a WolfTrack ambassador to preview the popular winter event.
Her friendly dogs yelped and jumped around as people came up to them for a greeting.
“I won’t be racing this year,” Ensley said. “We’re getting older and don’t have the stamina we need,” she said, mostly referring to her dogs. “We go out on runs when we can.”
As of Tuesday, the following mushers were registered:
‰Eight-dog race - Sandra Visger, Ryan Anderson, Rhonda Heerschap, Neal Seeger, Linus Meyer, Krystal Hagstrom, Frank Moe, Dusty Klaven and Adam Treful;
‰Six-dog race - Tim Chisholm, Steve Bergeman, Scott Edgett, Robin Fisher, Morgan McClelland Julie Schmelzer, Darcy Stanley-Nord, Chelsea Trucano, Billie Diver, and Adrea DeBoer.
Dog teams will be arriving on Saturday, Feb. 24. They will meet with Race Veterinarian Dr. Chip Hanson between 4 -5 p.m. at the Ely Senior Center, located at 27 South 1st Avenue East. Late musher registrations will also be accepted during that time.
The public is invited to join the mushers, handlers, WolfTrack Classic Board and the volunteers for the traditional Musher Dinner, which follows the vet checks, at the Senior Center. Tickets are $12 and will be available at the door. Dinner will be served at 5 p.m. “This year it is a hearty all-you-can eat spaghetti dinner, with bread, salad, dessert and a beverage,” said Race Director Ellen Cashman “The proceeds from this event go to support the Vermilion Community College Wilderness Club.” The musher meeting and bib presentation follows the Musher Dinner.
By 7 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25, the sled dog teams arrive at the Ely Softball Complex on Highway 1 to get ready for the start of the race. Dog truck parking and spectator parking are across the road from the start line. “This is a wonderful opportunity to get a behind-the- scenes look at what it takes for the mushers to prepare for the race, how the equipment is used and to see the excitement of the dogs,” Cashman said. “Dog-sledding is not just a sport or a hobby, it is a lifestyle and one the whole family is involved in from a very early age.”
The race consists of two competitions: a six-dog, 30-mile race and an eight-dog, 50-mile race. The eight-dog teams are first to go and are moved from the staging areas to the starting line. “The countdown begins above the high volume of the excited, jumping, howling, barking, eager to start dogs,” Cashman said. “This high energy chaos is followed by a silence as they take off and spectators watch 32 paws pounding the ground, sending snow flying as they quickly round the corner and run out of sight down the Taconite Trail.”
Teams will cross Highway 1, Highway 21, Bear Head State Park Road, turn onto the Bear Head State Park Trail and then on to the Fishing Lakes Trail, which takes them back to the Taconite Trail for the return to the Ely finish line. Teams are sent off at two-minute intervals. Depending on weather and trail conditions, the first teams should arrive back in Ely starting around 1:30 pm.
Once the eight-dog teams are trail bound, the six-dog teams will also leave the start area at two-minute intervals. Teams will head out of the ball field and connect with the Taconite Trail. “You can get a great look at the teams in action as they cross Hwys. 1 and 21,” Cashman said. The six-dog race will make a loop onto Purvis Road and reconnect with the Taconite Trail leading back to the Ely finish.
“With all the teams coming back to Ely there is plenty of time to head over to race headquarters at the Grand Ely Lodge. You can stop in the banquet room and get race information, check out the history of the Ely All American Race, warm up and have a wonderful meal off the special “Musher Menu” created in honor of the stars of the day,” Cashman said.
Head back to the Softball Complex to catch the excitement of 30-40 teams coming across the finish line. After the last team crosses the finish line and the dogs are all cared for and bedded in their comfy dog trucks, the post-race celebration begins.
The Grand Ely Lodge is the host site for the awards presentations. “The awards dinner is open to the public, so come join mushers, handlers and volunteers for conversations filled with adventures from the day. We will present awards to the winning teams,” she said.
A “Meet the Team” event, an opportunity to meet a team of racing Siberians and learn about the sport of dog sledding, training and caring for a team of dogs will be held Saturday, Feb. 10, at Whiteside Park from noon to 3 p.m.
Visit the website for all the latest race information and learn about volunteer opportunities, at wolftrackclassic.com, and on their Facebook page.