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Volunteers are essential in staging the U.P. 200

Volunteers help handle the sled dogs and get them lined up during a previous Upper Peninsula 200 Sled Dog Championship. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — This month marks the 30-year anniversary of the U.P. 200 sled dog races in Marquette. Year after year, it takes the efforts of many — including hundreds of volunteers — to make the race run smoothly.

“We estimate it takes around 800-900 volunteers to make the races happen,” said Darlene Walch, president of the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association. “Volunteers start on Wednesday of race week with merchandise and the need for volunteers goes through the entire weekend until the last team arrives at the finish line on Sunday evening.”

Although the race takes place in February, the preparations go on throughout the year with a 10-member volunteer board that includes a student representative.

“We could benefit from having several more people volunteer in the months leading up to the races,” Walch said. “So if you are looking for a way to volunteer, reach out to the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association and see how you can help out.”

The weather in the Upper Peninsula can be very unpredictable. Some years, the weather has been in the 20s, while other years it has been below zero degrees.

Valerie Poutanen of Ishpeming takes a photo of Katherine Pope, an Aspen Ridge student standing in front of her artwork at a previous Dog Dayz Art Show. The art show will take place again this year at the Marquette Arts and Culture Center and feature art work from local students grades K-8. (Journal file photo)

That’s where Northern Michigan University has stepped in for the last five years and has been providing a warming tent near the starting line of the race, Walch said.

“Tent, heaters and hot chocolate are provided by NMU to support a major community event. We also provided the safety vests for the volunteers. Our tent is made possible by Pete O’Dovero who owns the parking lot we use next to Old City Hall,” said Derek Hall, chief marketing officer at NMU. “We wanted to be connected to the U.P. 200 because it is such a great event. We are proud of our connection to the community and the unique things an NMU student can do while here.”

With Northern’s close proximity to downtown, the school is a major source of volunteers, organizers said. Students from the university have been volunteering for over 20 years as individuals, or with clubs and classes.

For those looking to sign up to be a volunteer, Walch said to visit U.P. 200.org and complete the volunteer form.

“Group leaders submit the form on behalf of their group; individual students sign up through the same form. Faculty members contact Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association with their class information — sometimes the faculty member is also volunteering,” she said.

The UPSDA held a volunteer orientation with hands-on dog handler training and a close-up look at different aspects of the race at the end of January. This event featured veteran mushers, UPSDA board members and volunteer coordinators.

There are many things that the volunteers help with such as setting up the downtown start and tearing it down after the races have begun; crowd control; dog handlers; bag check; road crossings; pre-race vet check for U.P. 200/Midnight Run teams and at the Jack Pine 30; checkpoint support and merchandise and silent auction.

Some groups from campus have been helping year after year with the races.

The NMU Constructors help with the set up of the start gate, the NMU Pre-Vet Club helps with the pre-race vet checks at Jack Pine 30 and the NMU Conservation Crew helps with the Rock River Road crossing. NMU’s Chapter of the American Marketing Association and the NMU Public Relations Student Society of America are helping with an economic survey this year.

The College of Business’s event management class helps with a variety of tasks related to the U.P. 200.

Crowd control is another important part of the race that requires many volunteers. Some NMU groups that help are Rugby, American Graffiti House, Alpha Gamma Delta, Phi Sigma Sigma, ROTC and Outdoor Rec Students. There are also many students from NMU who participate as volunteers individually.

The race has events running from today through Monday. For more information about the U.P. 200, visit www.up200.org/.

Amy Grigas can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. Her email address is agrigas@miningjournal.net.

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