Monday, March 1, 2010

Mush! ( 2/18/10 - 2/24/10)

When you think of sled dog racing, maybe the first thing that comes to mind is the famous Iditarod in Alaska. The Iditarod, a grueling course 1,150 miles in length, takes ten or more days to complete. Upstate New York offers mushing opportunities of its own. Though not as epic in length or famous as the Iditarod, local races are a chance to watch or participate in this great winter sporting event.

On Saturday February 20th, Steward Greg Chapman and I, Steward Liz Wolff, headed for the Tug Hill region to attend the Mannsville Quest Sled Dog Competition held in Winona State Forest. The 10,000 acre forest, as part of the Tug Hill, averages nearly 300 inches of snow per year, making it an ideal spot for winter recreation.

Top: A team comes through the chute at the conclusion of the race, but the dogs just want to keep on racing! Photo: Greg Chapman, Eastern lake Ontario Dune and Salmon River Stewardship and Habitat Program. Bottom: Members of a team from Canada rest up before their big race! Photo: Liz Wolff, Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Salmon River Stewardship and Habitat Program

This year's sled dog races, organized by the Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club, ran throughout the day on Saturday February 20th, and Sunday February 21st. Teams of four and six Nordic pure breeds competed in mid-distance races, while "fun" races in the afternoon were open to all breeds. Each competing team raced anywhere from 2.3 to 15.5 miles through pristine snow-covered woodlands.

During the event, we spoke to participants who graciously answered our questions about their fascinating sport. We learned that the most intelligent dog is chosen to be the leader, and that sometimes the dogs wear booties to prevent snow and ice build-up which can cause injury to their paws. We also took the time to survey visitors and participants about sled dog racing and other winter recreation they take advantage of in the area. We use the data collected in the surveys to try and better suit the needs of future visitors.

Sean Samolis of Syracuse, NY introduces the stewards to a member of his racing team. Photo: Greg Chapman, Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Salmon River Stewardship and Habitat Program

Aside from sled dog racing, Winona State Forest is a fine location for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. Next Saturday, March 6th, check out the 30th Annual Classical Cross Country Ski Race beginning at 9:00 AM at Winona State Forest. For more information on the race and registration, visit

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