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RACE DAY RECOGNIZED

UPSDA?honors would-be UP200 start with display

From left, U.P. 200 trail boss Mike Sjolund, Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association Board members Angela Sjolund and Ross Anthony, and trail crew member Trevor Slinkard are shown with the UP200 starting gate that UPSDA officials set up at the Marquette Commons Thursday. The group did so to honor and recognize what would’ve been the 32nd running of the UP200, Midnight Run and Jack Pine 30 races this weekend, as they were canceled due to COVID-19. The 32nd running of the event has been postponed to 2022. The gate will be up through the weekend. (Journal photo by Ryan Spitza)

MARQUETTE — The UP200, Midnight Run and Jack Pine 30 sled dog weekend is a spectacle that draws thousands each year.

However, the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association made the difficult decision to postpone the 32nd running of the races until 2022 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

And tonight would have been the night that sled dog enthusiasts of all ages from across the country would have descended upon Washington Street in downtown Marquette for the start of the UP200 and Midnight Run, where teams receive celebrity-like treatment as they’re cheered on under the glistening lights of downtown Marquette before they descend into the silence and darkness of the U.P. forests.

But since the races were unable to go forward this year, UPSDA wanted to find a way to commemorate the race weekend. Therefore, officials with the organization spent Thursday afternoon setting up the race start gate at the Marquette Commons to recognize the would-be kickoff of the event.

Angela Sjolund, UPSDA board member, said she misses all of the festivities leading up to race day and the joy the community gets from the event.

“It is sad that we don’t have the community involvement,” she said. “But we look forward to the next year. We wanted to recognize the race in remembrance. Come down and take your picture, because it’s just sort of a family tradition. It’s what you hear all the time, people come from far away to the race, but this year is just a different one.

“I know that (my son) Trevor (Slinkard), wasn’t even born when the first race was here and this has been a tradition of ours since he was young.”

Sjolund added that all everyone can do is look ahead to the future.

Fellow UPSDA board member Ross Anthony said what he’ll miss most is the sense of excitement.

“I miss being on the trail,” he said. “The downtown start and the general feel of it and how everybody was involved with this in one way or another. (Thursday) would have been the mushers banquet and the bib draw. (I’ll miss) the electricity that goes on in the town, but it was the right decision.”

UPSDA will leave the starting gate up until Monday, and the public is welcome to come and get their picture taken or view the structure to recognize the would-be race weekend.

The first UP200 took place during February 1990 in downtown Marquette. The race typically runs 238 miles from Marquette to the halfway point in Grand Marais, which has served as the halfway marker since 2003. Once reaching Grand Marais, the 12-dog teams head back toward Marquette for a Sunday morning/afternoon finish at Mattson Lower Harbor Park.

It is estimated that race weekend has a nearly $2 million economic impact on the central northern Upper Peninsula, according to the UPSDA website. The race also serves as a qualifying event for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which takes place in March every year and runs 938 miles from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome, Alaska.

For more information, visit www.up200.org.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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