Thanks to the cooperation of Mother Nature and about 150 volunteers, the 2013 WolfTrack Classic proved to be a howling success. While that itself is worthy of celebration, it underscores the potential for turning the WolfTrack Classic into an even larger winter event.
Spectators turned out in droves for this year’s sled-dog races, which started in Ely and finished at Tower and Cook. It was a welcome change for the event, which has struggled with unpredictable weather in earlier outings and had to be canceled last year. Moving the race from March to February helped, as did a change in the race’s course that cut the 10-dog race from 120 miles to 60 miles, allowing the race to finish in one day at Cook.
Each musher was also outfitted with a GPS tracking device. That not only allowed race officials to keep better tabs on the mushers’ progress, but also enabled folks to follow the progress of racers on their home computers and improve their chances of getting to good viewing sites in time to see the mushers and dog teams traveling the trails.
Those improvements could be the start of turning the WolfTrack Classic into a major winter event for Ely, Tower and Cook.
Adding other activities — such as weight pulls or mini-races for kids — could help draw even bigger crowds to the sled-dog races. Those events could all be staged in Ely, Tower and Cook. It harkens back to the traditional hoopla that used to surround the Ely All-American Sled Dog races that ended sometime in the 1980s.
Both Tower and Cook could add activities that would draw more spectators and help fill the time between mushers’ arrivals at the finish lines. Snow sculpture contests with a sled-dog theme, boot hockey tournaments, craft shows and more could be held in conjunction with the WolfTrack Classic to create more of a winter festival atmosphere. The potential is especially strong in Cook where a new community and youth center should be open at the Doug Johnson Recreation Area in time for next year’s race.
Those events, in turn, could help raise funds for area clubs and organizations. Students at the local schools could sell winter fan wear at the races while other groups, such as the Lions or VFW, could operate concession booths to raise funds for their causes.
The additional events wouldn’t be as volunteer-intensive as the actual WolfTrack Classic and it would be up to the individual groups or chambers of commerce to develop and staff those events.
It’s a golden opportunity to bring more people into our communities during what is usually the best part of winter in the North Country. Besides offering an economic boost to local restaurants and motels, it would help build a stronger sense of community and allow folks to recover from cabin fever by getting them outdoors.
The WolfTrack Classic is a great addition to our Northland winters, but it could be even more if we’re willing to invest the time and energy to make the sled-dog races the centerpiece of a large winter festival. Let’s start planning today for next year.