The Northern Pines Sled Dog Race enters its fifth running continuing to grow, from about 24 teams to more than 57 already signed up for the Feb. 18 event.
More than 2,000 visitors attended last year’s races at Northern Pines Golf Course and Event Center just west of Iron River.
“We have at least 10 teams more than our record year last year,” race Chairman Rob Lombard said. “We’ve just gotten more and more teams every year.”
Lombard said the event caters to a mix of sprint and mid-distance racers and draws spectators to the event center to warm up or get a meal.
But the races, with prizes totaling $4,000 are really all about speed and endurance of racers and their dog teams.
“This is professional quality,” Lombard said. “All four classes that we race, including our cash events, have top winners that are averaging 17 to 18 mph, which is world-class. However, we do have a safe enough trail that is extremely well marked and staffed so that people feel comfortable enough to send their younger family members out on it.”
The course runs begins and ends at the golf course, in different length courses depending on the event. The races begin with a fast, downhill start at the clubhouse, run through the golf course and onto the Bayfield County trail system and the Tri-County Corridor. The races comprise a four-dog 4.4-mile sprint, a six-dog 8.2-mile sprint, an eight-dog 32 mile run and an open class 14-dog limit 17-mile run. Two classes of “mutt runs” for kids and several classes of weight pulls also are included.
Trail Boss Tim Landgreen said the event should have excellent course conditions. Preparing the trail for race day is similar to conditioning snowmobile or skiing trails.
“The dogs require a hard-packed surface. It’s like a fat tire trail. They require a really firm base and it needs a special groomer,” he said. “Every time it snows, I go out and run the trail one more time.”
Every stick and branch also must be removed from the trail to avoid injuring a dog’s paw.
“I had the first good grooming the other day, then we had three mushers go out and do a practice run, and they came back and said the trail was in great shape,” Landgreen said. “That’s all I need to hear. It makes it worthwhile for me.”
Landgreen has maintained the course for all of its five years. He was approached by Geri Dresen, head of the Iron River Chamber of Commerce, to do the trail work.
“I knew zero, absolutely nothing, about sled dog racing, but I have a lot of toys, tractors and stuff, so I was a good choice to work on the trails,” he said.
Landgreen said he now is devoted to the task as a way to give back to the community.
“It’s just like the Lions with the Blueberry Festival. Last year we brought in over 2,000 spectators and that’s huge. Last year we had 37 mushers and this year we are up to 57, so we are growing, and all those spectators are stopping in to our businesses.”
And that in turn is important to the Iron River community during the slowest season of the year, said Dresen.
“It’s a great event for the middle of the winter. The mushers and guests come from all over. We’ve had mushers from Canada, we have volunteers that come all the way from Virginia,” she said. “We’ve provided a venue in the middle of the winter that is family-oriented. It gives families an opportunity to talk with the mushers, to learn about the dogs and get close to them.”
In the heat of competition, it can be difficult to maintain a sense of sportsmanship, but that is exactly what Drummond Area School District Administrator Melissa Giesregen is asking of students and parents alike.
She said she has become concerned at some of the language and actions she has seen at recent Drummond sporting events, including basketball games.
“I felt it was time to remind our fan base and students to focus on positive sportsmanship rather than negative interactions,” she said.
Giesregen said at Drummond’s last few home games, the contests have been very close.
“There are a lot of emotions that have been riding high, for all that have been involved,” she said. “It just felt like it was time to remind everybody that hey, we are here to cheer on our student athletes and to do it in a positive respectful manner.”
Giesregen said there had not been any overt actions of serious concern, but she said the tone of fan reactions to plays and calls have been concerning.
“There has been a lot of anger or remarks made to referees, students going back and forth, yelling and hollering,” she said.
So far the game time situations haven’t degenerated into anything like throwing objects on the basketball court and Giesregen wants to keep it that way. Last week she sent a letter to all students, guardians and parents in the district, reminding them to show their enthusiasm without making derogatory comments and encouraging others to show like sportsmanship.
“Please for everyone’s sake, calm down,” she said in the letter. “Enjoy the moment. Watch these student athletes with pride when they succeed and watch them with pride when they have the courage to fail.”
Drummond Basketball Coach Josh Hanson said that questionable sportsmanship is not a new issue in school athletics at any level.
“I’ve been coaching for 20 years, and as long as I have been coaching, its been going on. When I was a player, it was probably worse than it is now,” he said. “I think our school is just trying to preempt it, and make sure our fans are not the ones who are causing the problems.”
Hanson said he has seen sportsmanship issues come up not only at the varsity level, but even in middle school basketball and at volleyball games where fans become too passionate about the game.
“That’s been going on for as long as sports have been going on,” he said. “But it is one of those things where we are trying to get ahead of it. We want our Drummond students and fans to be supportive of our teams and not take it to a level where it becomes inappropriate.”
Hanson said the question of sportsmanship has become a hot topic since Giesregen’s letter went out last week.
“Maybe every school should be doing a little bit of their part towards trying to curb fans from those behaviors,” he said.
That said, Hanson said he has not seen any actions that have been grossly out of line or threatened anyone’s safety.
“I think it’s something that has been happening for a lot of years, I think she wants to make sure that we ware not the school that gets blamed for this stuff,” Hanson said. “There was not one incident or situation that created this. I don’t want to create a mountain out of a molehill.”
Hanson said the district has held an assembly with middle and high school students to make students aware of the need to exercise good sportsmanship.
“The students will say that the other schools are doing this too, and that may be true, but we don’t have to be like every other school, we want to be our own school, we want our kids to be better that what other schools may be showing,” he said.
Hanson said while in his years of coaching, he has seen fans ejected from games and students told to cease their behaviors or even kept out of games, but he said he has never seen a situation where anyone was endangered.
“I’ve never had a situation where I felt like I had to escort my players off the floor,” he said.
And that is exactly where Giesregen wants to be, indicating that it was important not to be a role model for bad behavior.
“Lets remind ourselves why we are here,” she said.
The ongoing housing and drug predicaments that have crippled Ashland were topics of a discussion Ashland High School students had with Mayor Matt MacKenzie last week intended to see what they have to say about the matter but also give them a sense of how local government operates.
When a student was reluctant to bring up the drug problem, MacKenzie said, “It is a crisis.”
“We’ve had a problem with that for years, and it’s not gotten any better,” he said. “If anything, it’s gotten worse.”
One thing Ashland has done to address it was launching the Student Pathways to Adventure, Resilience and Knowledge Program.
“It gives them an opportunity to do something other than sit on the couch, eat Cheetos and do drugs,” MacKenzie said.
When asked why not launch a rehabilitation center, MacKenzie said that would be great, but who is going to pay for it?
“If you’re going to have a rehab center, it costs money and someone is going to have to pay for it. Taxes will go up, and we all know how much people love that,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean people in government don’t care, MacKenzie stressed.
“I think you’ll find most people in government want to help people. But if that’s what the community wants, the city would look into it and say, ‘How can we provide this?’” he said. “Let’s do it if we can, but how do we do it in a way that makes sense.”
One key to solving the problem is linked to another problem hurting not only Ashland, but also the whole country. People have been wanting to move here after finding a job, but are unable to do so because they can’t find desirable housing or any housing for that matter, MacKenzie said.
The school district has lost potential staff members because of this, High School Principal Brian Trettin said. Their inability to find a house in Ashland has caused some staff members to find a place elsewhere, like Glidden or even Wakefield, Michigan.
City officials have started looking for a way to encourage people to move within the city limits, MacKenzie noted. An affordable housing development is being constructed on Lake Shore Drive East next to the Walmart to help relieve the crisis, but MacKenzie said this is not always the best solution.
“Unfortunately one of the things that happens is we become a low income housing area. As a city, that doesn’t always bode real well. I would like to see some houses at market rate. They’re typically nicer places that generate more income,” he said.
Part of the problem is more homeowners are renting their spaces out as short-term rentals, essentially AirB&Bs. This may sound like a good idea, but it can it has its drawbacks, MacKenzie said.
“AirB&Bs take homes off the market,” he said. “Some homes are sitting empty except for a weekend or two. Takes away the ability for people to move in,” he said.
Looking around the room, Trettin asked the students, “”How do we get young entrepreneurs to stay in Ashland?”
“I’m asking because people are looking to retire, and if people don’t fill these jobs, we might lose them and business could leave,” he said.
Businesses in Ashland and beyond have been struggling to hire employees since the COVID-19 pandemic subsided and started increasing wages to attract potential hires. But what impact will that have? He asked.
“If I pay you $6 to make a hamburger, and now I got to pay you $12, I don’t make any money. So prices go up,” he said. “So it’s a catch 22.”
There is a lack of things to do in Ashland, one student said. There used to be a bowling alley, Mackenzie said, but it closed because no one went. After one student brought up constructing a motocross track, MacKenzie told them if they want to see something happen, then present the idea to city officials or the Ashland Area Development Corporation to see if it’s feasible.