Mushers React to Canceled Beargrease Marathon

Posted at: 10/18/2013 4:50 PM
Updated at: 10/18/2013 6:10 PM
By: Travis Dill

The 30th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon won't happen this year, and mushers reacted to the cancellation on Friday.

Marathon leaders said funding troubles caused the cancellation, but one local musher says the board of directors could have done more to keep the race alive this year.

Billie Diver of Cloquet said the Beargrease is her hometown race and the cancellation email was hard to swallow.

“I was pretty frustrated when I got it just because there seemed like there was more that could have been done that wasn't,” Diver said.

She said fundraising could have been promoted better.

“Even the fundraisers they did have I was even kind of in the dark about, and I had offered my time, money and whatever it took I guess to help out specifically for fundraising. I'd offered my help multiple times, and I don't want to say I was turned away, but just kind of put on the back burner I guess,” Diver said.

Weather caused a cancellation in 2012 and delayed the marathon last winter. Race Coordinator and Beargrease Board President Pat Olson said more than $45,000 is needed to support the race. She said the inconsistent snowfall hurt fundraising and sponsorship efforts.

“A lot has to do with the inconsistency with the weather pattern. Do we know that if we plan a race starting now that we are going to have enough snow in January to have a race? We just don't know that for sure,” Olson said.

Musher and 2004 Beargrease Champion Blake Freking said the weather was detrimental. He heard the cancellation news as he headed to training with other Beargrease mushers.

“I'm pretty broken about it honestly, It's one of the races that I kind of focus on every year. It's actually one of the reasons we live in Minnesota,” Freking said.

But Diver said the weather is just a convenient excuse and there is plenty of community support to draw on.

“There's so many people that are more than willing to help with this race. The city loves this race. The volunteers love this race. The mushers love this race. I know that it can go on maybe just with a little more effort,” Diver said.

Marathon leaders said they are regrouping and focusing on the 2015 Beargrease Marathon. Diver hopes that means an overhaul in leadership.

"Maybe even start from the bottom up again and just take a step back. Look at where their faults are; Look at where things aren't really going right," Diver said.

She may be frustrated, but said the cancellation is an opportunity to make the Beargrease trails stronger than ever.

Freking agreed. He said the cancellation does give mushers pause, but the community support behind the Beargrease is strong enough to keep the marathon going.

“It might need maybe a new outlook on some things or a maybe a different approach, but I think the Beargrease Marathon certainly has a place in the community,” Freking said.

The first Beargrease Marathon fundraiser will take place on Saturday. Jim Lanier, and Iditarod musher, will hold a book signing at Amazing Grace Bakery in Duluth at 6:30 p.m.