The Grand Canyon Sled Dog Challenge will take place on Saturday, Feb. 23. Organizers are the Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry and the Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce. Straub Brewery of St. Mary’s, Pa. is the sponsor.
The challenge is an out and back 18-mile mid distance run on the Pine Creek Rail Trail from Ansonia to Tiadaghton.
A new competition category has been added this year – skijoring; a competitor on cross-country skis using his or her ski poles is pulled by one, two or three dogs. Entrants wear a skijoring harness attached by an eight- to 12-foot shock-corded towline to their dogs’ sledding harnesses. For skijoring, the human doesn’t have to be an expert skier and the dog doesn’t have to be a hardy cold-weather breed. Participants usually include a wide range of purebreds and mutts that are healthy, love to run and tow.
The skijorers will be the first to start the challenge, leaving in two-minute intervals beginning at 9 a.m. from the start at the Marsh Creek Access in Ansonia, run nine miles to Tiadaghton, turn around at a small teardrop loop and run nine miles back to the Marsh Creek Access on the Pine Creek Rail Trail. At the start, there will only be room for skijorers and their dogs, the mushers and their dog teams and officials, not spectators.
Following the skijorers in two-minute intervals will be pro and registered breed teams of six and eight dogs pulling dogsleds under the direction of their mushers. The pro dog teams will be Alaskan huskies. The registered breed teams will include purebreds like the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, Samoyed and Chinook.
“When most of the skijorers and sled dog teams pass by, spectators will find that they are pretty quiet,” said Mary Beth Logue, a challenge organizer. “They might hear the mushers and skijorers giving some commands but rarely do you hear the dogs bark. The dogs are happy and smiling when they are pulling the sled,” Logue said. “One of my dog’s does bark because she’s excited and does a little hop as she runs to show her sheer enjoyment. All of these dogs are born to run,” she added.
“What is neat is that within skijoring and sled dog classes, there is no age or gender breakdowns for humans or their dogs,” said Logue.
The only spectator area for this event is the Darling Run Access on the Pine Creek Rail Trail. Spectators can park there to get great views of the fast-paced down and back action.
Spectators are asked to stay off of the trail until the challenge ends and leave their own dogs at home.
To get to the Darling Run Access, take Route 6 to Shippen Township, turn onto Route 362, drive about 1.5 miles, turn right, enter the access area slowly and park.
“Most dog sled and skijoring teams will wait until the last minute to register because they want to know whether this event will be held,” she noted. “That depends on how much snow or ice there is on the Pine Creek Rail Trail.” She has talked to competitors from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, New Hampshire and New Jersey who are planning to come. We will let them know Wednesday, Feb. 20 if the challenge will be held,” Logue said.
“If we can’t do the challenge, then I will have my dogs and equipment at the Darling Run Access at 9 a.m. on Feb. 23. Spectators will be able to meet my dogs and talk with me about this sport. There may be other activities as well.”
If the challenge is a go, the public is invited to meet the competitors and their dogs from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday night, Feb. 22, at the Burnin’ Barrel on Route 6 in Ansonia (GPS address: 5440 U.S. Route 6, Wellsboro, Pa. 16901). A mushers meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. The starting order for the skijorers and teams will be announced and competitor questions will be answered.
On Saturday, Feb. 23, the Burnin’ Barrel will open at 11 a.m. for lunch. There will be three varieties of Straub beer on tap. A representative from Straub will be on hand with a limited supply of T-shirts and pint glasses.
No matter whether the challenge or different activities will be at the Darling Run Access on Feb. 23, Second Chance Animal Sanctuary will be there with hot chocolate, coffee and snacks available for purchase with all proceeds to benefit the animals in their care.
For more information, call the Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce at (570) 724-1926 or email email@example.com.