Volunteers are a vital part of organizing and facilitating the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. In the past 27 years, many interesting people from all over the nation have done their part to make the Beargrease a great experience. Volunteers provide warmth and good cheer at the checkpoints with warm food and big bonfires. Others camp out at road crossings to assist teams safely across a variety of roads along the way.
Nearly 1,000 volunteers are needed by race time to ensure this event runs smoothly and safely. There are volunteer opportunities for everyone, from those who have experience with sled dog races to those who just LOVE dogs! All areas of the race need volunteers, especially the starting area and various checkpoints. Here is a list of some of the main volunteer opportunities:
If you would like to be a part of and see ALL of the race from the very beginning through the finish and the awards banquets, then the “Banner Squad” is something to consider. Many of the race sponsors have small, medium and large banners that need to be proudly displayed at all the race events and checkpoints. The squad will have the sole responsibility in making sure that all sponsor banners are displayed at the right locations, precisely at the right times throughout the entire race. Typically, 2 squads (2 vehicles) “leap frog” these banners all the way up and down the trail just ahead of the mushers, media and spectators. The responsibilities of the Banner Squad are huge, as is the time commitment. The Banner Squad typically needs to commit from the very first day all the way through to the Marathon Banquet. However, the rewards are huge as well, as you will witness first hand the entire race from start to finish.
If you enjoy talking to people, being very busy and selling merchandise this is the place for you. There are several events throughout race week where your skills are needed: The Cutest Puppy Contest and Opening Ceremonies, the Start Line, and at both the Mid-Distance and Marathon Awards Banquets to name a few. We can use your help at any one or all of these events – you can help for an hour or all day. Volunteers will help set up the merchandise displays and sell our popular Beargrease merchandise.
Volunteers are needed early Saturday morning at Black Bear Casino Resort in Carlton, MN to register the mushers, their handlers and their teams into the respective races. This is your opportunity to individually welcome and meet every musher entered in this year’s race.
Cutest Puppy Contest
Fitger’s will host the 2014 “Cutest Puppy Contest”. Anyone may enter a puppy (age restrictions of puppies apply) to be judged by the public as “The Cutest”. Nearly 40 puppies enter this contest, and volunteers are needed to setup tables, signs, registration materials and escort the puppies to their positions for the judging. Ballots from over 1,000 judges also need to be tabulated quickly as these little canines are anxious for their crown! This is an extremely popular Beargrease event that assuredly draws large crowds. It is the ideal volunteer opportunity for those who prefer the warmth of indoors.
Start Line Setup/Teardown
It’s “show time”! Over 80 mushers, over 600 dogs and 4000 spectators enjoy this race. There is a tremendous amount of set up work to do, dog trucks to park, banners and snow fence to set up, tents to erect and hundreds of spectator vehicles to park before the mayhem begins. If you volunteer for the start, be ready for fast paced excitement as the sled dogs instinctively know its time to go and they are begging to “get at it”! If you’ve never witnessed a dog sled race start…you will never forget it.
If you want to get your hands dirty on the trail, the dog crew chief is looking for your help. This is a great way to meet some of the mushers and get hands-on experience handling racing dogs. Helpers will need to assist mushers with moving their dog teams from the truck to the starting point. Volunteers should be bundled up in warm clothes and have the ability to run while holding a gang line.
Volunteers are needed to direct people and cars with where to go and where not to go at the Start. For many spectators, this is their first race and there are numerous questions about the race, the dogs, the best place to see from and “where are the bathrooms”.
Mid-Distance Awards Banquet
The Mid-Distance Awards Banquet is held at Camp 61 in Beaver Bay, MN. Over 75 attendees, including the mushers, will be at the banquet to see the awards being handed out, hear “tales from the trail”, and enjoy a good meal & live music. Volunteers are needed to help with ticket sales and to set up and sell merchandise. You’ll be busy!
Anyone wishing to volunteer working with Amateur (Ham) Radio can visit bgarc.org for more details.
Another on-site volunteer opportunity, this allows people to help teams across road crossings. The demands of this position are to maintain enough snow for teams to cross the roadways, create a “human fence” for trail continuity, and sometimes answer questions from the public about musher status and from some of the crossing racers. Some of these road crossings are rather remote. Many “road crossing” volunteers prefer it that way. Bring a snow shovel, a flashlight or lantern, lots of hot chocolate, a close friend or loved-one, build a huge beautiful warm fire alongside the road and watch the race go right by you, amidst the amazing Milky Way and Northern Lights.
Highway 2, Beaver Bay, Finland, Sawbill, Devil Track, Trail Center
There are six checkpoints in this year’s route from Duluth to Trail Center and back. One of the best ways to be directly involved in the race at a checkpoint is to volunteer as a “Checker”. Checkers are the first to greet the teams as they arrive at the checkpoint. Armed with time sheets on clipboards, Checkers quickly and accurately record time in and time out, count the number of dogs standing in the team as well as any dogs in the sled and rapidly check the sled bag to ensure the musher is carrying all the mandatory equipment. As a Checker, you are a vital piece to the success of the race and you have a lot of responsibility with regards to getting mushers in and out of checkpoints quickly and safely, however, expect being outside, exposed to cold temperatures for long periods of time with little or no sleep.
Other checkpoint volunteers at these sites get a feel for the excitement and the elements involved in the sport of mushing. Help is needed to assist the mushers in and out of checkpoint locations, set up and tear down checkpoint sites and handle other activities such as keeping large, warm bon fires fed, crowd control and miscellaneous assistance related to the checkpoints.
General Checkpoint Information
Call the office for current information
Highway 2 (Outside of Two Harbors)
This will be a good spot to view teams, mushers and handlers as it is a required layover for both races. Marathon teams are not likely to spend much time at this checkpoint on their up bound route. However, they are required to take a 6 hour mandatory layover here on the return leg. Marathon teams should start arriving around dusk on Sunday evening. There will be a bonfire, food and merchandise available and a whirlwind of activity with teams coming and going till after midnight. We will need help with road crossings on Highway 2 and the Alger Grade. In the checkpoint area (aka “The Pit” or “The Checkpoint from Hell”) we will need help finding room for all the teams and trucks, handling teams as they come off and then on the trail and to keep the fire going.
The Finland stop offers good food and refreshments in a spacious, beautiful, heated Center, which provides a good place for a little R&R for the mushers, handlers, race officials and dogs. Spectators and volunteers enjoy this stop because they can more easily talk with some of the mushers and handlers.
Seclusion and solitude is why the Sawbill spot is one of the favorites among mushers. There is not much here but the woods, the trail and the frozen Temperance River. This site is a good volunteer opportunity for the person who prefers peace and serenity to the crowds and mayhem at other checkpoints. Volunteers keep several fires roaring throughout the night and keep spirits high. Each year, Volunteers provide tents that act as the Command Center and more importantly, provide lots of hot food and drink (free of charge) to all mushers, handlers, volunteers and race officials. Marathon mushers are most likely to arrive very early Monday morning. On the upward bound route, the Sawbill Checkpoint is designated as a remote “wilderness checkpoint” which means “NO HANDLERS”. The Mushers must provide for the care and feeding of their dogs and themselves. Marathon mushers are required to take a 6 hour mandatory layover at this location on the upward bound. While all the Teams are in the checkpoint, a strict “order of silence” is in effect, as the canine athletes and their owners rest and re-fuel. It is a spectacular sight to see 365 dogs all resting together in one spot! Many volunteers are needed to insure that the teams get in and out safely. Marathon musher times are adjusted for the starting differential at this checkpoint so musher strategies start to play out as they jockey for trail positions throughout the rest of the race. When Marathon mushers leave this checkpoint they will be heading out on the longest leg of the trail as they travel over 60 miles to Poplar Lake. Returning Marathon teams can be expected back at this location anytime Tuesday. Parking is limited as handler vehicles need room to park (on the downward bound leg) near the checkpoint. Plan on a little walk from your car to the checkpoint. There are three rules that all persons must comply with while at the Sawbill Checkpoint: 1) Do whatever it takes to insure the safety of the dogs, 2) No whining about the cold, and 3) you must have fun!
Mid-Distance Finish Line – Tofte, MN
The 2013 Mid-Distance Race is slated to finish in the shoreline community of Tofte. Expect the first musher to arrive Monday, January 28th, at about 8:00am. Help is needed to set up the finish line the night before, record finish times, check sled bags, build and maintain warm fires, and assist teams as they pack up their dogs and equipment.
Trail Center – Poplar Lake
This spot up the Gunflint Trail has a unique wilderness setting without as much of the madness that is found at other stops. Along with a great view of the race, Trail Center offers food and other facilities at this location. Some lodging will also be available along with gasoline. This checkpoint essentially marks the halfway point of the trail. From here, the Marathon teams begin their return leg to the finish at Billy’s in Duluth.
Billy’s – Finish of the Marathon Race
The end of the long Marathon race is a spot full of festivity and excitement. Billy’s offers a great setting to watch the Marathon finishers. Teams come in towards a cheering crowd of fans to receive finisher accolades. Mushers and handlers are almost always willing to share stories of the trail. Help is requested to set up and tear down the sound system, tent, banners and other miscellaneous debris found at the finish line. Other important tasks are greeting all of the finishing mushers with a spirited atmosphere and providing crowd control.