By Joseph Robertia
It was roughly a year ago that the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race was in such dire straits financially that organizers wondered if the event could even happen one more year, much less every year into the future.
This year, however, a new corporate sponsor and many upcoming fundraisers have helped the race to hit its stride, like the huskies of a winning team.
“The T-200 purse is back to $25,000, and we can once again have an awards banquet to celebrate the mushers, sponsors and volunteers for the T-200. We can also bring back the T-100, a very popular race with mushers in training,” said Tami Murray, T-200 president and race director.
For the past four years the T-200 has increasingly relied on funds from the Community Revenue Sharing Program, established by the Alaska Legislature to provide funding to municipalities, unincorporated communities and Native villages, in order to host the race. The funds were obtained via the Cohoe community and given to the T-200 as an incorporated nonprofit operating within that community.
Being the only Iditarod-qualifying race on the Kenai Peninsula, and with a nearly 30-year history, several businesses came forward this season to ensure the race would not hit its finish line.
“Last year Apache Alaska became a sponsor of the T-200 and has never looked back,” Murray said, referring to the oil and gas exploration company, which has leased approximately 850,000 acres onshore, in tidal areas and offshore in the Cook Inlet Basin for exploration activities.
John Hendrix, the general manager of Apache Alaska, was raised in Homer, Murray said.
“He didn’t think twice about sponsoring the race,” she said. “He attended the race, went to checkpoints, and even went out on the trail. He just is a big fan.”
Not long after the T-200 concluded in 2012, Hendrix and Lisa Parker, Apache’s government relations manager, approached the T-200 board of directors about a fundraiser.
“They had some ideas on how to celebrate their contractors and help the T-200,” Murray said.
The two proposed a Rainbow Trout Fishing Challenge, which took place on the Kenai River last month. Several of their contractors were invited to the event, and a banquet and auction took place the night before the fishing began, with all proceeds going to the T-200.
“It was amazing,” Murray said. “We now have 10 new sponsors for the race and raised $40,000.”
Knowing that sponsor-ships can wax and wane, Murray said that T-200 organizers will save some of the funds raised for future races, and that the organization isn’t done attempting to raise money.
“We are still hoping our local sponsors continue to support us, and we have two very fun events coming up,” she said.
The T-200 Turkey Trot will take place in Kenai on Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, with a five-kilometer and 10-kilometer race. Participants can register online from the T-200 website.
On Dec. 16 the T-200 will again team up with Tsalteshi Trails Association for a cross-country ski and skijor event.
“We took a year off last year, but after some requests we are bringing it back, and this is the only day dogs are allowed on the groomed trails,” Murray said.
As for the T-200 itself, Murray said there will be some changes this year, the primary of which being the date it happens. For 28 years the event has been held the last weekend of January, but two newer sled-dog races have been scheduling their events on the same date for the last few years, forcing mushers to choose between them.
So the T-200 board decided to move the race to Feb. 2, 2013.
“Our move gives mushers who need an Iditarod- or Yukon Quest-qualifying race a chance to get one in, and we’re hoping to attract a few more mushers,” Murray said.
Like last year, organizers are hoping the race route can go all the way to Homer, to include southern peninsula businesses and residents in the event, while offering mushers a more diverse area to cover.
“Our hope is that mushers will start at Mile 112 of the Sterling Highway in Kasilof, head 50 miles to Freddie’s Roadhouse, push on to Homer for the halfway, back to Freddie’s, and to the finish at Mile 112 of the Sterling Highway in Kasilof,” Murray said. “A lot of things need to happen for this trail to work — snow being the major component — as well as permitting from landowners.”
Once those things are in place, organizers can focus on putting in the trail, Murray said, with help from the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers, Homer SNOMADS and trail boss Kevin Fulton.