It doesn't seem that long ago that the first sled dogs bolted from the starting gate and sprinted down Washington Street through a large, loud crowd of spectators in the inaugural Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Championships.
However, that cold February day was way back in 1990, and from then on the U.P. 200 has been a welcomed mid-winter event in downtown Marquette and elsewhere along the race course.
The 25th running of the sled dog races will be this weekend and mushers, their dogs and the communities involved in the races are set to offer another wonderful show for spectators. There will be more than 40 teams leaving downtown Friday night, 13 at 7 p.m. and 30 at 8 p.m.
The festivities actually get under way this evening with the pre-race banquet and bib draw, which all mushers are required to attend. The pre-race event was changed this year to the YMCA in Marquette and is open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m.
Kicking off activities on Friday is the ever-popular vet check, which begins at 9 a.m. in the Riverside Auto parking lot. This is an opportunity for spectators to get an up-close look at the dogs.
Several other U.P. 200-related activities are scheduled around the area on Friday leading up to the race, as well as through the weekend. A listing of the events can be found on the race's website at up200.org.
Opening ceremonies for the race itself are at about 6:30 p.m. at the intersection of Fourth and Washington streets in front of The Mining Journal, where the staring gate is set up.
Washington Street from Fourth to Lakeshore Boulevard has been blocked off for the event and snow trucked in to give the street a look of a bygone era.
Mushers and their teams will launch themselves down Washington Street in the midst of cheering fans beginning at 7 p.m. - and the race is on. As of this morning, there were 13 teams registered for the U.P. 200 and 30 for the Midnight Run, which is set to begin in downtown Marquette at 8 p.m. Friday.
The Jackpine 30, which is run from Gwinn over a route that returns mushers to Gwinn, has 21 teams registered and begins at 10 a.m. Saturday.
We encourage residents and visitors to the area to come on down and be a part of the U.P. 200 that has been a wonderful tradition for the past quarter century.