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Beargrease sled dog race taking a year off

Keith Aili nears the Trail Center checkpoint during the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon on March 11, 2013. Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

By Mike Creger

Forum News Service

DULUTH -- Pat Olson called the decision “sad” but necessary. The race director announced Thursday that January’s John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon races have been canceled.

Olson said organizers need more money and a revived spirit, and they hope taking a year off can do it.

“We need to take time to regroup,” she said.

The race suffered in the past two years. In 2012, it was canceled due to a lack of snow. This year, the race was delayed for two months and run in March to guarantee snow for the event.

“We’re hoping to be surrounded by people who want to carry this forward,” Olson said.

She said the Beargrease board will focus on fundraising. It takes about $50,000 to run the marathon and mid-distance races, she said. When asked what the board would do if $50,000 came in today, she said “game on.”

But the year off is also meant to gauge interest in the event. Olson said the “sport has changed its color.” Mushing has become more expensive, especially for those traveling from out of state. She said a 2014 race could be held but it likely couldn’t offer the incentive of a purse.

“We want a good purse,” Olson said.

“Perhaps the interest in the sport has declined,” she said, noting that the Beargrease relies on a small group of passionate volunteers.

Olson said changes could come to the race, including the idea of running it in stages, where mushers rest overnight. But that setup would exclude it as a qualifying event for the most famous race, the Iditarod in Alaska.

The Beargrease is one of the most arduous sled dog races in the world, Olson said. It’s often mentioned in the same breath as the Iditarod.

“We have a premier event,” she said. “We take pride in that.”

“It’s been tough,” Olson said of the decision to retool. “We lost some sponsors, we gained some. We’ve struggled.”

Beargrease enthusiasts will gather at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Amazing Grace in Canal Park for a book signing by Iditarod musher and author Jim Lanier.

Olson said the event will offer a chance for people to talk about the cancellation and the way forward for the race.

“We’re hoping people will share our passion, roll up their sleeves and help us pull out of this,” she said.

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