Dog days of winter: U.P. 200 race begins on ‘mushy’ Valentine’s Day
MARQUETTE — There certainly was excitement in the crowd lining downtown Marquette’s Washington Street on Friday night for the 31st running of the U.P. 200 sled dog race, but maybe the most excitement came from the true athletes of the race, the dogs themselves.
Eighteen 12-dog teams started the race, an Iditarod qualifier, at the starting line near Washington and Fourth streets at 7 p.m. The race will continue to Grand Marais and back, with teams expected to finish at Mattson Lower Harbor Park on Sunday.
The 20 eight-dog teams taking part in the shorter Midnight Run, which goes from Marquette to Chatham and back to the Ojibwa Casino in Harvey this year, left the starting line following the U.P. 200 teams. That race is to be completed today.
Leaving the line first for the U.P. 200 was Joshua McNeal of Kasiloff, Alaska, with the other teams leaving in two-minute intervals. The crowd counted down the 10 seconds before their departures — sounds that mixed with the dog’s enthusiastic barking.
“They love the noise,” said U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet. “They love the excitement, and this is perfect weather.”
That sentiment was echoed by Darlene Walch, president of the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association.
“This is one of the most beautiful nights we’ve had in awhile,” Walch said.
Other local dignitaries spoke at the event as well.
Marquette Mayor Pro Tem Jenn Hill gave a literal shout-out to the many people who donated their time to make the race happen.
“Let’s hear it for the volunteers,” Hill said.
Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson expressed his appreciation for the many NMU students who showed up to help with the event, as well as race organizers.
“Thank you for everything you do for the university, for our students, for our faculty and staff,” Erickson said.
State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, said a few words to the crowd.
“This is an event that I grew up with, that many of us grew up with,” Cambensy.
She said 37 senators or representatives and their staffs came to the Upper Peninsula from Lansing to see the race.
“We’re really glad to have so many of our colleagues come up here,” said state Sen. Ed Mc-Broom, R-Vulcan.
Teams in the U.P. 200 can be followed online at up200.org. Race headquar
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.