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Despite low snow trail conditions, Beargrease board votes to go

Lack of snow, warm weather have left trails in less than optimal condition.

The lead dogs of John Beargrease racer Erin Schouweiler’s team set the pace early in the Beargrease mid-distance race in January. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

DULUTH -- The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon board of directors has voted to move ahead with plans for their 2021 race starting Jan. 31 despite less-than-optimal trail conditions.

Much of the region’s snowmobile trail system — including the North Shore State Snowmobile Trail on which the Beargrease operates for much of the route — continues to suffer from a lack of snow in January and recent days with above-freezing temperatures and even some rain.

Some mushers had raised concerns about the ability of large dog teams to stop and hold without more snow to anchor in. But board members reviewed conditions and decided Friday night, Jan. 15, to move ahead.

“We reviewed detailed trail reports of the entire trail and determined that we have a safe trail,’’ said Frank Moe, a Hovland musher, Beargrease board member and chairman of the board’s COVID-19 planning committee.

Beargrease officials also met with state officials and received a state permit to proceed with the race with several changes made for COVID-19 precautions.


“We also had a meeting yesterday with several members of the state administration to review the Beargrease COVID plan and were complimented on our thoroughness,’’ Moe said.

This year’s race will seem familiar to mushers, traveling about 310 miles from the start at Billy’s Bar just outside Duluth to the finish at Grand Portage. But the race will be held without spectators. No members of the public will be allowed at the start, checkpoints or finish.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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