The UP200 Sled Dog Race, an Iditarod qualifier that starts and finishes in Marquette, will officially be “powered by” Northern Michigan University, beginning in 2023. NMU will become a Gold Sled Sponsor with naming rights for the event, building on a longstanding relationship with the U.P. Sled Dog Association. The official name for the 2023 race will be “UP200 – Powered by NMU.”
The new partnership will enhance volunteer, service-learning and participation opportunities already afforded NMU students, faculty and staff. It will also elevate the event's branding and marketing efforts through related in-kind services and financial support provided by NMU.
“When we recruit students, we tell them Northern is a unique place and that students are able to do unique things outside of the classroom,” said Chief Marketing Officer Derek Hall. “Partnering with the UP200 demonstrates that in a very strong way. It also makes a big statement about the university's support for the community.”
“Not many institutions can say they are partnering at this level with this type of community event,” said Darlene Walch, president of the U.P. Sled Dog Association (UPSDA). “It's a symbiotic relationship. If we get more students involved and capture their experiences, it creates a unique signature for Northern.”
The UP200, a round-trip journey between Marquette and Grand Marais, is the largest of three UPSDA races held over the same February weekend. There is also an 80-mile Midnight Run from Marquette to Chatham and back, and the Jack Pine 30, which begins and ends in Gwinn.
Walch said it takes 800-900 volunteers to pull off the trio. Many of those roles are filled by student organizations and service-learning classes. The long and diverse list has included the NMU Constructors, who helped to build the UP200 start gate, Sailing Club, ROTC, Criminal Justice, the Student Leader Fellowship Program and NMU Rugby.
“The Pre-Vet Club is one of the most interesting examples,” Walch said. “I knew their adviser and we got them involved in the Jack Pine 30. After our first meeting, when we discussed what would happen the night of the race, all of the students showed up with stethoscopes and they did all of the vet checks on the dogs. Now the juniors and seniors show new students what they do and there's an expectation the club will be involved each year. I've written several recommendations for students applying to vet school.”
“It's fun from our perspective to work with students and help them develop,” Walch added. “Some just want to volunteer, which is fine. Others take on more leadership roles. About four years ago, we created a student representative position on our board. It's not a token role; it has full responsibility. Currently half of our board members are NMU alumni.”
Northern heightened its profile at the UP200 in recent years by hosting a warming tent near the start of the race in downtown Marquette. The university will ramp up to its Gold Sled sponsorship with a soft launch this weekend, sponsoring the spot trackers placed on all UP200 and Midnight Run teams. The devices enable online, real-time monitoring of mushers' locations along the routes.
NMU and the UPSDA will spend the next year fine-tuning the details of their partnership leading up to the 33rd running of the UP200 — Powered by NMU in 2023. For more information on this weekend's event, visit https://www.up200.org/.