ELY – The Ely Chamber of Commerce is the new owner of the WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race. Eva Sebesta, the Chamber’s executive director, cited the historic winter activity, which has …
ELY – The Ely Chamber of Commerce is the new owner of the WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race. Eva Sebesta, the Chamber’s executive director, cited the historic winter activity, which has been a part of Ely’s winter season since the 1960s, as essential economic development for the community.
“Our area is a drive-to, not a drive-through, location,” Sebesta said. “As with our other events, they become economic drivers bringing thousands of people to our community. Could late February use a strong economic driver? Absolutely. We also do a phenomenal job putting on events that entice people to come back year after year.”
Sebesta said the WolfTrack Classic board of directors recently approached the Ely Chamber of Commerce about taking over the race. “As with the Ely All-American Race decades prior, finding volunteers to serve on the board proved challenging,” she said. “Everyone on both sides agreed a sled dog race is part of Ely’s history and ingrained in our culture, and recognized the importance of continuing the race.”
Ellen Cashman, one of the original founders of the WolfTrack Classic has served as the race director, board president, volunteer coordinator and in many other positions, and she will maintain the integrity of the event ,Sebasta noted. “(Ellen) has served as part of the race for many years and knows the requirements of planning and executing a long distance race,” she said. “Fifty years since the first sled dog race in Ely was launched in 1970, the Ely Chamber of Commerce, is proud to keep the sport of sled dog racing alive and well here.”
In the beginning
Back in 1969, Ely’s Action Committee was tasked with starting a winter event. On Jan. 17, 1970, the Minnesota Arrowhead Championship Sled Dog Race began. The Ely Chamber of Commerce, along with the Winter Activities Committee of the Ely Action Group was one of the original sponsors and organizers. Within a few years, the race was renamed the Ely All-American Sled Dog Race. “It’s important to note the Ely race began before Alaska’s Iditarod race,” Sebesta said. “For more than 20 years the Ely All-American ran down Sheridan Street and headed off into remote areas on an epic quest.”
According to Sebesta, the Ely sled dog race was such a notable event, drawing thousands of spectators, that Dr. Grahek, Ely mayor in 1979, proclaimed Ely the Sled Dog Capital of the World. “Those who remember the days of the race can attest to the excitement created as mushers and their teams prepared for launch. The howling, barks and clamor was incredible,” she said.
In the mid-1990s, the challenge of maintaining a large race with limited coordination and volunteers, along with other races coming on the scene, brought the race to a close. “Approximately 10 years later, in 2006, a hearty group of sled dog mushers started a conversation about creating a new race in the spirit of the Ely All-American,” Sebesta said. By 2008, plans were in place and the first WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race was launched. During the last twelve years the race has grown and adapted based on feedback and identifying Ely’s unique niche in the sled dog racing world.
The race now has two categories. The eight-dog race is 50 miles long and winds along the Taconite Trail, into Bear Head Lake State Park and across Bear Head Lake before turning back towards Ely. The six-dog race is 30 miles in length and also follows the Taconite Trail with a shortened loop traveling into the Purvis Lake area.
2020 race details
The upcoming two-day race event, Feb. 22-23, 2020, includes a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Vermilion Community College’s Wilderness Club. “The dinner is open to the public and provides an opportunity to meet the mushers before the race,” Sebesta said. Following the dinner is the Musher Meeting where the race marshal reviews race rules and course conditions.
On Sunday morning, the mushers begin arriving at the Ely softball complex around 7 a.m. and the race kicks off at 9 a.m. sharp when the eight-dog teams head out.
“The WolfTrack Classic appeals to professional racers like Jen and Blake Freking and Ryan Anderson,” Sebesta said. ‘Many young mushers new to the sport also compete. The race has always strived to be family-friendly and supports mushers of all experience levels.”
An awards banquet at the Grand Ely Lodge follows the end of the race.