CALUMET - The CopperDog 150 sled dog race has grown tremendously in its first three years, and organizers have every reason to believe this year's event will be even better.
CopperDog Inc. became its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in August after previously functioning as a subcommittee of Main Street Calumet, and since then there have been several signs that point toward a successful event this year and a sustainable event in the future, according to race officials.
For the 2011 race it took six months to fill the CopperDog 150 pro-class race. For the 2012 race, it took 12 days. For this year's race, which is set for March 1-3, it took 3.5 hours.
The race used to be the primary responsibility of just half a dozen people, but now the organization has 12 board members, six event directors and about 20 main organizers, all of whom are volunteers. This year's race budget is also up to about $66,000, from last year's $60,000.
"I am extremely proud of what this organization has accomplished," said Todd Brassard, executive director of CopperDog Inc. and race director of the CopperDog 150. "Between our board, committees and dedicated people who are taking on specialty tasks, we have the potential of being among the best events in the sport."
The response from mushers has pointed in that direction, as evidenced in part by the quick registration, he said. The waiting list already had 10 mushers on it after just a few days.
"I've been doing this for 30 years and this is the best supported race I've ever been to, and that includes the Iditarod," Ian MacKenzie, a musher from Ontario, said after the 2012 race.
Drawing comparisons to the Iditarod is as good as it gets for a sled dog race and this year's CopperDog will feature another connection to the world's most notable sled dog event.
Ryan Redington, whose grandfather Joe Redington is credited with starting the Iditarod, will be making the trek from Alaska to Calumet to compete in the fourth annual CopperDog 150, as well as other Midwest races.
"The future for CopperDog looks bright," Brassard said. "Between the organizational changes, the 150 filling to capacity in less than four hours and the Redington name on the roster, we are heading into the 2013 race with unmatched enthusiasm."
Mushers from seven different states and Canada will descend on the Copper Country, which area officials hope will help reverse negative impact on the local economy caused by the low snowfall this winter.
"We know it's tough out there and the lack of snow has been devastating on many businesses, but support for the CopperDog has been simply amazing," said Abbey Green, vice chair of CopperDog Inc. and director of fund development. "Our entire team is driving forward and working very hard to make the 2013 CopperDog 150 a brilliant beacon of hope and point of community pride during a disappointing winter season."
While the number of people involved in coordinating the event is greater than ever and so is their experience level, the CopperDog 150 pro-class race and CopperDog 40 could still not get off the ground without hundreds of volunteers. People interested in volunteering can register at the CopperDog 150 website - copperdog150.com - which also contains regularly updated information about the event.
Organizers are also rolling out a more in-depth level of training for volunteers interested increasing their level of involvement.
"New this year is our Lead Volunteer Program. We're taking 25 to 35 dedicated volunteers and really teaching them about the mechanics of the race," Brassard said. "They are going to be our true leaders in the field this year. People can learn more about this program on the CopperDog website."