By Joseph Robertia
Like a musher plodding through a snowstorm, organizers of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race are continuing to move forward with this year’s event despite numerous challenges. Compensation for difficult conditions means the route, format and purse will all be significantly changed for 2012.
“We actually talked about taking this year off to regroup, but we decided the race will go on, but there will be a lot of changes,” said Tami Murray, executive director of the race, who has herself given up her salary percentage for organizing the event during the difficult financial times the race currently faces.
Much of the race’s current financial predicament stems from the T200 losing a huge chunk of its earnings as a result of three local establishments closing, all of which sold pull tabs to support the race. The J-Bar-B and the Riverside House went out of business, while the Tustumena Lodge closed for the winter.
“We’ve lost a lot of revenue but we’re working on getting gaming in other places,” Murray said.
To compensate for the loss of funding, race organizers applied for and received more than $10,000
designated for the Cohoe community as part of the state’s revenue sharing program, through the Kenai Peninsula Borough. This is the fourth year the T200 has received funding from the program, although in the past the received amount was less than $1,000 per year and totaled a cumulative $2,200 over all three years, of the nearly $120,000 available during that time.
“The revenue we got will cover operating expenses like straw, (a) snowmachine and gas to put in the trails, permitting fees, insurance, and Porta-Potties and generators,” Murray said.
However, with an operating expense of nearly $50,000 to hold the T200 and the accompanying T100 and Junior Tustumena races, this year’s funding is just enough for only a bare minimum of events.
“The biggest change is we are going to take a year off from the T100. It won’t be run this year,” Murray said.
The Junior T will take place, though, running from Kasilof up into the Caribou Hills for 25 miles, then returning the same route.
Dropping the T100 will help offset some of the organizational expense and will help minimize logistics in working out the T200 race trail. The course will be much different this year. Rather than going from Kasilof to Caribou Lake to the Clam Shell Lodge and back, this year the race will return to a trail similar to the first few years of the race. It will run from Kasilof to East End Road in Homer, to the (not open) Clam Shell Lodge, then it will repeat the same course in reverse to return to the finish line.
“Not having the T100 teams camping this first year will help us get the bugs worked out at that checkpoint (at East End Road),” Murray said. “We’re hoping a few T100 entries will move up to the T200, and even if they have to scratch, they can do so there. It’s on the road system.”
Running the race through the southern peninsula and adding a new checkpoint will allow Homer residents to take part in the race. The Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers will continue to assist with trails north of Caribou Lake, and the Homer-based SNOMADS snowmachine club will put in trails to the south of the lake and help with the new checkpoint.
Dean Osmar, who founded the race in 1984, has continued to race the T200, placing as high as
second in 2006 and 2007. He said it will be good to race to Homer again.
“I haven’t been on that part of the trail in a while, but there’s a lot of traffic on it, so it should set up good if the snow holds,” he said. “The first couple of years we had the checkpoint on East End Road and it was a good spot, really good parking for the dogs and plenty of room for a bonfire.”
As when the race had an additional checkpoint at Rocky’s Café in the Caribou Hills — where 50 miles (or 150 miles if returning) into the race mushers were required to take four hours of rest, taken at their discretion, but broken up in one-hour increments — there will also be new rest requirements with the addition of the new stop.
“Now in addition to six hours rest at the Clam Shell, mushers will have to take four hours of rest at the East End Road checkpoint, taken in two-hour increments,” Murray said.
Osmar was happy to see additional rest put back into the race.
“The T200 is such a tough race. It’s really not good to march them for 100 miles at a time,” he said. “It’ll be good to break it up for the dogs. They need it.”
Time between mandatory rests isn’t the only thing cut this year. The race’s purse will also decrease, from $25,000 to $10,000. And rather than paying 10 positions, the purse will only be split between the top five finishers. It will pay $5,000 for first, $2,500 for second, $1,500 for third, $700 for fourth and $300 for fifth.
“We want to continue to make it worthwhile for mushers from far away to come to our race,” Murray said.
To cut costs further, there also will be no pre-race banquet, and the finisher’s banquet will be smaller and no longer mandatory.
“Instead of drawing their starting orders at a pre-race banquet, mushers will now go out in the order they sign up,” Murray said.
Registration for the T200 opens on Nov. 15, while the race start is scheduled for Jan. 28. The entry fee is $200, down from $250 in years past.
The T200 also will host a five-kilometer and 10-kilometer Turkey Trot fundraiser at 2 p.m. Nov. 25 at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. The entry fee is $20 per person, with proceeds going toward the race. Registration for either the T200 or the Turkey Trot can be done online at the race’s website, http://www.tustumena200.com.