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ELY- It is impossible to think of this city at the end of the road without noting its history of sled dog racing— and the WolfTrack Classic has become the latest iteration of that longstanding …
ELY- It is impossible to think of this city at the end of the road without noting its history of sled dog racing— and the WolfTrack Classic has become the latest iteration of that longstanding tradition.
The WolfTrack Classic, which caps a busy February in Ely, has become one of the most popular mid-distance dog sled races in North America. And the action all happens this weekend.
The race is now organized by the Ely Chamber of Commerce, one of the several events the chamber holds every year, including the Blueberry/Arts and Harvest Moon festivals.
“The WolfTrack Classic will bring a total of 50 dog sled teams to the area this year,” race director Ellen Cushman told the Timberjay. “Twenty-nine will be six-dog teams and 21 will be eight-dog teams.”
The race will be on the Taconite Trail, starting at the trailhead next to the Ely Softball Complex. The teams of six dogs will run a 30-mile race with a turnaround at Purvis Lake. The teams of eight dogs run a 50-mile race with an extended turnaround loop that includes crossing Bear Head Lake.
The eight-dog teams will begin the race with staggered starts. The first team leaves at 9 a.m. “It’s a timed race. There will be a two-minute interval between the start for each team,” Cushman explained. “It will take 43 minutes to start all the eight-dog teams. Then there will be a six-minute break. Then we will start the six-dog teams, which will take 58 minutes. All the teams will take an hour and 48 minutes to start.”
Cushman said that the fastest teams could finish in three to four hours, “depending on the snow … All the teams should finish by 4:30 p.m.”
Those who can’t see the race in person can watch the race live online on IFan Sports. The link to stream the race is at the bottom of the race’s home page at wolftrackclassic.com.
Want to watch?
Spectators can view the race from the starting line, which is also the finish line. Parking is limited at the Ely Softball Complex, which is located on the Old Airport Road off Highway 1 (watch for the Forest Concrete signs). Once spectator parking is full, street parking will be available on White and Harvey Streets, and at the Chamber of Commerce parking lot.
“Spectators should plan to arrive between 8 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.,” Cushman advised. She did not know how many parking spaces would be available next to the starting line, remarking that it depended on the difficulty of plowing the parking lot at the softball complex. “Last year, we filled the lot up and had to park people on Harvey and other side streets.”
Note that there is no parking on Highway 1/17th Ave. Race organizers ask that you please leave your own pets at home if you come to any of the places available to view the race.
Spectators can also view the race at the many road crossings for the Taconite Trail. Those planning to watch the race at Bear Head State Park must purchase a state park day pass to do so if they don’t already have an annual park pass.
The staff requests that spectators park well away from any road crossing and stay back from the road-crossing crews. The crews must be able to see both vehicle traffic and any teams on the trail. Spectators or their vehicles which create safety issues at any road crossing will be asked to move.
The activities for the WolfTrack Classic started last Saturday afternoon, Feb. 18, at Mike’s Liquor in Ely. Earth Rider Brewery of Duluth held the kick-off event for the dog race with a beer tasting. “The event had a steady stream of people. I believe Mike’s Liquor was pretty happy with how the event went and so was Earth Rider,” Cushman said.
The official welcome party is on Friday, Feb. 24 from 4-7 p.m. at the Timber Trail Lodge, located at 629 Kawishiwi Trail in Ely. The party is an occasion where spectators can meet race officials and volunteers. The event will feature a bonfire, hot beverages, “ice games,” and interesting people.
The public can see the dog teams and their mushers up close on Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Minnesota North College Vermilion Campus, from 3-5 p.m. The mushers will be checking in their teams at that time with the race veterinarian. The two hours will be filled with mushers and their dogs coming and going during the check-in processes.
The traditional annual Musher Dinner will be on Saturday, Feb. 25, from 4-7:30 p.m. The all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner is a fundraiser for the Minnesota North College Vermilion Campus Wilderness Club. Admittance is $10 for adults, $5 for children under 10 and $5 for Vermilion Campus students with ID.
The total purse for this year’s WolfTrack Classic is $15,000, provided by race sponsors Sundog Sport of Ely, Timber Trail Lodge of Ely, and Lang Feeds, Inc. of Eden Valley. Prizes will be awarded to the top eight finishers in each of the two race categories.
First place for the eight-dog teams will be $2,000, with $1,700 for the six-dog teams. Second place will be $1,350 and $1,250, and third place will be $1,100 and $1,000, for the eight-dog and six-dog teams, respectively. The amounts drop for each subsequent finisher, with the eighth-place finishers receiving $250 and $225 for the eight-dog and six-dog teams. In addition, all of the other dog teams that finish the race will receive $50.
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