Langlade County is going to the dogs, and folks couldn’t be happier.
After dry runs—literally in 2011 and 2012—conditions are ideal for the Langlade County Culver’s Trailblazer Challenge Sled Dog Races Saturday and Sunday.
Races start Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m. in the Culver’s of Antigo parking lot.
Three, four, six and 10-dog teams will race across the fields and through the woods northeast of Antigo, with plenty of excellent opportunities for spectator viewing at the various road crossings and along the route.
“We’ve even heard of people along the route hosting sled dog parties in their backyards,” Deena Grabowsky of the Antigo/Langlade County Chamber of Commerce said. “This is a very fan-friendly event.”
Free parking will be available near Culver's. There is no admission charge and the staging area for the mushers and their dogs will be open to the public, offering an up-close and personal look at a very interesting and canine-friendly sport.
The event is sanctioned by the International Sled Dog Racing Association and will be managed by the Wisconsin Trailblazers Dog Sled Club, Inc.
"I believe the partnership between the Antigo/Langlade County Chamber of Commerce and the local sled dog clubs is a win-win situation,” local musher and 10-dog team driver Steve Wilcenski said. “The mushers win by being able to participate in a quality race while the community wins through the dollars the race brings to Langlade County."
Lack of adequate snow forced the cancellation of the races scheduled for 2011 and 2012 and it looked bleak early this year as well, forcing postponement from the original January date. But the late winter of 2013 has been a bit kinder, Trailblazer race director Beth Castaldi said, and several events have already gone off as scheduled.
"We are very grateful that everyone involved are continuing their efforts to hold this event even though Mother Nature has been uncooperative,” Castaldi said. “ All the other pieces of the race puzzle have fallen into place including permission from landowners, financial and other sponsorship from local businesses and assistance from governmental agencies.”
Grabowsky said the excitement level among the dogs, handlers, volunteers and community in general is high.
"Even though we've had to cancel the sled dog races in the past enthusiasm for our event is running high," Grabowsky said. "Community members I've contacted are behind us all the way."
And she gave a special nod to the cadre of volunteers needed to make the races a success.
"It takes a crew of volunteers to make race weekend go smoothly,” Grabowsky said. “ Serving as trail help is especially important, yet fun. Those of us who have previously volunteered enjoyed learning about the parts of a dog sled, how to assist a racer on the trail with their dogs and even how to catch a run-away team in the unlikely event that would occur."
Castaldi said about 65 teams are expected for the weekend’s action, with mushers coming from across the Midwest as well as Canada.
And while a schedule change forced the race to be taken off the list of “wild-card” events for the 2013 International Federation of Sled Dog Sports World Championship Race in Alaska, Castaldi said here is still plenty to race for.
“Our race is sanctioned by the International Sled Dog Racing Association,” she said. “Several mushers are in very tight races for year-end points and that’s drawing those teams to this event.”