FORT KENT — Eighty-four mushers from the United States, Canada, England, Scotland and New Zealand are signed up for the 19th running of the Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Races which will take off down Main Street in this northern Maine town Saturday, March 5.
The races come just three weeks after the “The Little Town That Can” plays host to the world in the International Biathlon Union’s eighth World Cup at the 10th Mountain Center, the premier biathlon center in the United States.
Twenty-eight of the teams are from Maine (four Maine teams entered in the first running in 1993). The only race without its quota of 30 teams is the 250-mile long classic. There are six slots left in that race. The 30 and 60-mile races have waiting lists of hopefuls who want to run.
Also included in the list of mushers is one team each from England, Scotland and New Zealand. New England has 47 teams in the competition and the Canadian Provinces have 19 teams. The Quebec contingent has the largest number of competitors after Maine with 10.
The purse for the three races amounts to $40,000 in cash prizes.
Irving Woodlands, the Willard Jalbert Jr. Family and Pepsi Cola have all agreed, again, to sponsor the 250, 60 and 30-mile races.
The Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Race at Fort Kent is the most demanding and longest sled dog race in the United States east of the Mississippi River in the lower 48 states. It is considered to be one of the hardest tests of man and dog in the sled dog race circuit.
The race is a qualifier for the famed 1,100-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest. It is considered to be one of the hardest tests of man and dog in the sled dog race circuit. Simply finishing the 250-mile trail is considered a great accomplishment.
Continuing their nearly two decades of Can-Am support, some 500 volunteers will be doing their utmost to showcase the race. Volunteers from Fort Kent and from all over the northeast include the board of directors, trail groomers, host families, race marshals, handlers, judges, ham radio operators, communications and computer experts, those creating the Main Street start, veterinarians, and search and rescue people.
Mushers will race from Fort Kent to Portage Lake, then westward to isolated checkpoints in the silent, snowbound northern Maine forests, then northward to Allagash and back to Fort Kent in a scenic loop that traverses varied terrain including unforgiving forests, brooks, lakes, open fields, populated areas and demanding hills and mountains.
Founded on October 16, 1992 to establish a mid-distance sled dog race to serve a community of mushers throughout the Snow Belt and to enhance the areas image as a winter destination point, the annual 250-mile classic on the first weekend of March has become a glowing jewel in the Aroostook County Crown image. Shorter 60-mile and 30-mile races were established in 1994 and 1997 to create starter races for fledgling mushers working their ways up to the 250-mile classic. Thirty teams are allowed annually to compete in each of the races.
The Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Race has enticed mushers from throughout the United States, Canada, the Yukon Territories and overseas in it’s nearly 20-year history. Spectators, some years more than 6,000 of them, also come from Canada and throughout the United States. The town’s population more than doubles on the morning of the races. People line the quarter mile of the race start, five or more deep in some area of Main Street.
The Main Street start of the race is a dramatic event. Some spectators follow the mushers in the 250-mile classic to the first checkpoint at Portage and then catch up to them at Two Rivers Lunch at Allagash some 36 hours later. Scores of enthusiasts gather at the finish line at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent during the weekend to cheer for the finishers in all three races. The shorter 30 and 60-mile races finish on Saturday. Mushers and dogs in the 250-mile race begin to arrive at the finish line starting early Monday morning.
Sunday morning, March 6, mushers and supporters attend the finishing ceremonies for the two shorter races. The banquet and awarding of prizes for the 250-mile classic will be held Tuesday, March 8 at the Fort Kent Knights of Columbus Hall.
The race can be followed on the worldwide web. Internet users from countries on every continent except Antarctica have tuned in to the Can-Am Crown website, with more than 20,000 hits logged on http://can-am.sjv.net during the running of the race.