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Bayfield gears up for Apostle Islands sled dog races

Mary Manning of Hovland waves to the crowd during the February 2017 Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race in Bayfield. Manning won the 90-mile, 8-10 dog race. Photo by James Netz.

Wisconsin's smallest city is set to welcome mushers and spectators to one of the largest sled dog races in the Midwest on Saturday, Feb. 2 and Sunday, Feb. 3.

The Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race, now in its 24th year, draws racers from across the U.S. and Canada. Multiple races take place over the course of the weekend, with the teams completing a loop through the forests of the Bayfield Peninsula each day.

"If you are looking for a chance to get outside and see a special winter event, this is a great opportunity," said Jeremy Oswald, events manager for the Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau. "There is so much excitement and activity at the start of the race, from the revved up dogs to the unique trailers that have been created to cart them around. This is an event to walk around and be part of. Once all the teams have headed out on the trail it's fun to stop by the spectator site on Butterfield Road and see how all that excitement at the start turns into 'dogged' determination after some time on the course.

"Our HAM radio operators are also out along the entire course, calling in the mushers progress to the main info tent at the start."

The event consists of five individual races: a 10-dog 80-mile race; an 8-dog 60-mile race; a 40-mile Sportsmen's Race; a 6- to 8-mile Family/Rec Race on Saturday; and a 6-mile Youth Race on Sunday, with a combined purse of more than $3,000 distributed to the winners in different categories.

Races begin at 10 a.m. on days at the Echo Valley Gravel Pit, 11 miles north of downtown Bayfield on State Highway 13, fire number 30675 State Highway 13). The location serves as the start/finish line for each race and is an excellent place to cheer the teams on as they head out onto the trail. There will be a warming fire, information tent, merchandise sales and concessions at the Echo Valley Gravel Pit.

There is an additional spectator site at the corner of Star Route Road and Butterfield Road where the race course crosses the road following Bayfield County's Sand River Trail System. This site also features a warming fire, portable toilet and viewing area.

In addition to the actual race, there are several special events taking place in Bayfield as part of the event. On Friday, Feb. 1, meet the mushers over lasagna dinner at 6 p.m. at the Lakeside Pavilion. At 7 p.m. is the mandatory roll call for all the weekend's racers, and the public is encouraged to attend and see what goes on behind the scenes of a sled dog race.

On Saturday at 5 p.m., the Bayfield Inn hosts a musher mixer and taco dinner. Saturday's race results will be available there and visitors are invited to mingle with the mushers as they find out their times. Beginning at 7 p.m. at the Madeline Island Ferry Terminal, Stephen Ballou talks about his time on Antarctica working with a team that was collecting meteorites along the vast icescape.

On Sunday afternoon after the race, the final awards ceremony takes place at the Bayfield Lakeside Pavilion. The doors open at 3 p.m. with the awards to be presented around 4 p.m.

Directories with maps and race information will be available at the Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau, 117 S. First St.), at local businesses and online. The public is welcome at all events, but race organizers ask spectators to leave their pets at home.

For information, visit bayfield.org or call 715-779-3335.