The UP200 sled dog race, established in 1990, is powered by Northern Michigan University, both in terms of sponsorship and volunteer support. Darlene Walch, president of the U.P. Sled Dog Association, estimates as many as 500 students will volunteer for this weekend's UP200 Powered by Northern Michigan University, Jack Pine 30 and the Midnight Run. They help with everything from selling merchandise to vet checks for the dogs and crowd control, with several student organizations involved in the process.
One such organization is the Conservation Club from NMU, which contributes 20 volunteers divided among students, family and community members. They work at a station in Chatham from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., helping to guide the dogs from the trail onto the road.
“There's so much to love about this event. It's amazing to see the dogs close and in action, but the most exciting part is when we're waiting around the fire and suddenly we can hear them yipping in the distance from the trees,” said Ceirighen Gill, co-leader of the club. “It's nice to be outside that late at night, since we're so far from any light pollution the sky is really clear and bright. We also meet a lot of community members of all different ages and backgrounds. This race is one of my favorite events because of the variety of people that volunteer.”
The Conservation Club is just one of many student organizations that help out at the UP200. The Northern Michigan Constructors have repaired and built barricades over the years that block off Washington Street in downtown Marquette for Friday's start. Other groups such as the Pre-Vet Club (read a related story here), rugby team and houses in the on-campus residence halls bring in volunteers for the event.
Speaking of the rugby team, the NMU Moosemen usually bring about half of the team (about 12 to 15 people) to help set up road signs for the race, as well as helping to load the trucks containing the barricades that separate the trails from the viewing areas.
“Volunteering for this gives us the opportunity to create relationships with other members of the community as well as those helping set up the race,” said President of the Moosemen, Gavin Klein. “As volunteers, having the opportunity to watch the race and enjoy the event while promoting our team is something that we value. The race has given members of our team memories and friendships over the years and we hope to continue this tradition for the ‘Moose' for years to come.”
There are three events total for the weekend of Feb. 16-20:
The UP200 Powered by NMU kick off at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, with the opening ceremony. Then, at 7 p.m. the races begin. The mushers and their teams travel 216 miles from Marquette to Grand Marais for a chance to win up to $8,700 in cash, and for other teams, a chance to qualify for the Iditarod.
The Midnight Run also starts in downtown Marquette at 8:30 p.m. Mushers will race to Chatham and back, ending the race at the Ojibwa Casino on M-28. Finally, the Jack Pine 30 begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18, at the First Baptist Church in Gwinn. The mushers and their teams will race eight miles to the Sands Station before looping around and finishing where they started.
For more information on the UP200, visit www.up200.org