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With Beargrease 2012 canceled, mushers, business owners 'bummed'

Colleen Wallin of Silver Creek Sled Dogs in Two Harbors comes into a checkpoint during last year's John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. Race officials announced the cancellation of this year's race due to a lack of snow. News-Chronicle file photo.

A decade ago, Greater Two Harbors kicked off the 2002 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon after a dearth of snow forced race planners to set the starting line about 10 miles north of town instead of its usual spot in Duluth.

This year, organizers gave up hope altogether of finding sufficient snow there or anywhere else along the North Shore trail and scuttled the race for only the second time in its fabled history. The race was also canceled in 2007 due to a lack of snow.

"After long deliberation, the John Beargrease Board of Directors is regretfully announcing the cancellation of the 2012 Race," the race planners announced in a statement Monday, two weeks before the marathon's scheduled Jan. 29 start.

"With the safety of mushers, dogs and the many volunteers which is the number one concern of the Board, lack of snow and poor trail conditions prohibit the running of a safe race," the statement said.

Twenty-seven racers were registered for the marathon and 34 for the mid-distance event.

Musher Colleen Wallin of Two Harbors' Silver Creek Sled Dogs said she was disappointed by the decision to cancel the race rather than postponing it as in 2002, and had hoped there'd be enough new snow to run it later.

"It doesn't make any sense to me not to try to hold it March 4th," she said. "Where is the dedication to the mushers? We put our heart and soul into this race. I am very disappointed. I'm going to go run my dogs."

But rescheduling the race would have run into conflicts with other races, said Geoff Vukelich, president of the board.

"Each race kind of has its own weekend," he said. "A lot of our volunteers are signed up to be part of other races that land on our backup date. You don't want to pull veterinarians or race officials away from other races they are signed up for."

"It was a very, very hard decision; we did not want to cancel, but logistically we just had to," he said.

"It's a bummer, but they have to put on a safe event," last winter's champion, Ryan Anderson of Ray, Minn., said Monday afternoon. "You have to please sponsors, you have to please mushers, you have to please the dogs -- you have to please everybody. It just seems like you can do it all the time. It's unfortunate, but it's the way it is everywhere."

Mushers aren't the only people disappointed that this year's marathon was cancelled. The newly-opened Camp 61 Bunkhouse and Restaurant in Beaver Bay was to host the mid-distance awards banquet Jan. 30. Owner Todd Krynski said as of Wednesday he still hadn't heard from race organizers if the event would still be held, but said he was doubtful that the awards dinner would go on as scheduled.

Camp 61 had plans to stay open 24 hours while mushers passed through the Beaver Bay area. In past years, Beargrease events were no longer held in the restaurant and hotel that was in the Camp 61 building before the Krynski family remodeled and reopened the business. Krynski said he was looking forward to being a part of Beargrease.

"The facility had a huge history with Beargrease," he said. "Unfortunately it the last few years Beargrease went in a different direction so we were excited to be involved again, but there's nothing you can do about Mother Nature."

Always subject to weather, the race was postponed several times, in addition to the 2007 cancelation, Vukelich said. Its start was relocated at least once before the 2002 move to Two Harbors, with the 1998 race beginning and ending in Grand Portage.

The longest sled dog race in the Lower 48, the Beargrease was first run in 1980. It became an annual event in 1984.

Although the race will not be held, event organizers will hold the Jan. 27 gala and silent auction and Jan. 28 cutest puppy contest.