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Canceled Beargrease opens door for revival of another sled-dog race

The 2012 Beargrease was canceled due to a lack of snow. (2011 file / News Tribune)

Several Cook County organizations have come together to host a local sled dog race to replace the canceled John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.

The Mail Run Dog Sled Race will run next Monday and Tuesday in the Gunflint Trail area.

A lack of snow near Duluth caused the Beargrease board of directors to cancel the race Jan. 15. The marathon race from Duluth to the Gunflint Trail and back and its companion mid-distance race were scheduled to begin Sunday.

"Everybody in this community is really excited," said Jack Stone, owner of Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply, which helping host the event. "Although the Beargrease has always been in Cook County, it has been kind of a Duluth deal. This gives us a chance to put on a race of our own again."

The approximately 100-mile-long race will begin about 4 p.m. Monday on Devil Track Lake. Mushers will travel to Poplar Lake and do a loop before taking a five-hour layover at Trail Center. After that, they will retrace their route to Devil Track, where they are expected to finish before noon on Jan. 31. The race will have only one class.

"At this point we are looking at 12 dogs" on a team, Stone said. "We expect to fill the field, which is 16 (teams)."

Although there is little snow around Duluth, businesses along the Gunflint Trail report a foot or more in the woods.

"Most people think there's been nearly no snow in Minnesota this year, but there has been plenty of it up here," said Sarah Hamilton, owner of Trail Center. "We really enjoy being the turnaround point for the Beargrease each year, and are excited to hear that our musher friends will still be stopping by mid-race. And we're really excited about it being called the Gunflint Mail Run because of the history of it."

The Mail Run sled dog race was held along the Gunflint Trail in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s before the Beargrease began as an annual event. John Beargrease was an Ojibwe Indian who delivered mail by dogsled along the North Shore more than a century ago.

The Mail Run was held again in 2007, the only other year the Beargrease was canceled. Hundreds of people attended the Mail Run that year, Hamilton said.

Though this year's Beargrease race is canceled, Friday's gala and silent auction and Saturday's Cutest Puppy Contest are being held. The Mail Run events were scheduled to so they don't conflict with the remaining Beargrease events, Stone said.

"We don't want to take anything away from the Beargrease," he said. "We're looking at complementing them this year because we have snow up here."

"I've been asked a lot, 'Are you going to do this again?' " Stone said. "Let's get done with this year."

This year's Mail Run is sponsored by Stone Harbor, Trail Center, the Landing at Devil Track, the Cook County Dog Mushers and the Cook County Ridge Riders snowmobile club. Tentative plans call for the event to include winter camping, snow-kiting demos, Marquette ski demos and other winter activities at Devil Track Lake.

"We are trying to make this a fun event," Stone said. "Families are invited out."