Event to highlight opportunities in newly acquired municipal property
By Eileen Persike
A 416-acre section of woodland recently donated to the town of Rhinelander will be showcased next month when skis, sleds, dogs and mushers converge on the property near the Northwood Golf Course. The Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club is hosting the first Heal Creek Dog Dash and Winter Festival February 26-27.
Dr. Lee Swank, a long-time Rhenish doctor and silent sports enthusiast, donated the property to the city. The Rhineland City Council passed a resolution on January 10 to approve a quitclaim deed that transferred the land to the city. The idea for the Heal Creek sled dog race came from Mayor Chris Frederickson, who said he wanted to find ways to use and support the area. He reached out to friend and dog sledding musher Pete
Thompson, who contacted experienced race planner Niina Baum.
“I had already thought about doing a race in the Rhineland, but there were never enough tracks in one place and now, with the support of the city, we are able to prepare additional tracks to get the mileage we need, so it’s actually possible now,” Baum said.
Nothing like the weeks-long 1,000-mile Iditarod that comes to mind so often, the dog dash is for sprint racing. There will be two and six mile courses. Instead of husky dog breeds that are designed to stay warm, sprint races will feature more crosses of dogs such as sighthounds and German greyhounds; strong and fast dogs.
Baum said there are currently 50 entries for the races which will include a few junior classes for two- and three-dog sleds over a two-mile course, as well as a variety of adult racing classes, from two to 10 dogs. over a course of six miles. Also on the six-mile course, there will be ski joëring, that is, skiing with dogs.
Running is a big part of Baum’s life; she has been competing for 20 years – starting at the age of six. She now sits on a few sled dog boards, including the Trailblazers club which hosts the Heal Creek event and the American Sled Dog Sports Federation, which encourages sled dog sports to become an Olympic sport. She is also responsible for submitting bids to host world championships in the United States.
“I actually talked with Minocqua Winter Park about potential upcoming world championships,” Baum said. “It would be really cool if that happened.”
Despite being on the squad for the World Championships held this winter in Europe last week, Baum made the difficult decision to stay home. COVID testing requirements, frequent flight cancellations, and traveling with dogs in general have turned the idea of competing for the United States into a “nightmare.”
The festival portion of the Dog Dash event was included on Saturday to bring the community together, Baum said. Rhinelander Brewing Company will sell a specialty Musher’s Brew, and Joe’s Pasty Shop will have pastries for purchase. Live music, snowshoeing, sledding, race viewing and meeting the dogs and racers are also part of this first year event. The action starts at 9 a.m. on February 26.
For more information, search for the event on social media.