Safety of U.P. 200 defended by mushers, race officials

MARQUETTE – The Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association is clearing the air over the causes of an accident during the U.P. 200 that killed one dog and seriously injured two others.

UPSDA President Pat Torreano said accusations she’s heard of an unsafe race are simply unfounded.

“It’s dog mushing, and I don’t want to make light of that, but it’s dog mushing and mushers go through rocks and gravel in places – not this year – they wrap themselves around trees,” Torreano said, referring to a musher who pulled out of the race before Friday because of injuries he sustained while training with his dogs at home.

The dog that was killed and the two injured were running with the team of musher Frank Moe of Bemidji, Minn. The team was crossing M-28 at about 5:30 a.m. Sunday, having just left the Wetmore checkpoint, when the dog team was struck by a pickup truck driven by an unidentified Canadian man.

After investigating the incident, Michigan State Police found no one to be at fault and no citations were issued.

“We always look to make it better and our critics out there who say we don’t know how to run a dog race are very hurtful, because these volunteers work their hearts out. They were all in tears,” Torreano said. “There was not a musher there who faulted us in any way, or who faulted Frank in any way. It simply was an accident. It’s over. We move on. We try to improve and most of the mushers I spoke to are back next year.”

The mushers involved in the Iditarod-qualifying race are rallying around the association.

Following the conclusion of the U.P. 200 Championship banquet Monday morning, the mushers gathered to discuss the race – what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved for next year.

Conversation quickly turned to the accident involving Moe and his sled dog team.

“Frank Moe and his team are part of the U.P. 200 family,” said Zoya DeNure, a musher from Delta Junction, Alaska, who placed sixth in the 240-mile-long race. “We all love dogs and we all love racing and that’s why we’re all here. So we don’t want to see anything like that happen.”

DeNure said the mushers believed the trail was made as safe as possible for a sport that can turn dangerous in an instant.

“There is no lack of support for this race,” DeNure said. “I’d come back in a heartbeat. …

“(The accident) makes me, as a musher, say, ‘Wow.’ It brings you back to reality that this can happen to anybody.”

DeNure said the mushers agreed more lights at the M-28 intersection would be helpful, along with a reminder to mushers that, as they leave the Wetmore checkpoint, a road crossing is fast approaching.

DeNure said she did not believe the U.P. 200 was any more dangerous than other sled dog races, a point Torreano said many mushers made to her on Sunday.

“They were very emphatic about that,” Torreano said. “After the banquet, many, many of them came up to me and reassuringly said ‘Accidents happen.’ And that’s what the police said. It’s an accident. … There’s accidents in every sport. Every musher there did not feel that our race is more dangerous than any other race in the United States.

“We are very sorry for Frank. I can’t even imagine how he feels about losing a dog and having two so badly injured. But, they are recovering. Those tails are wagging, and that’s a big thing.”

Torreano said the dogs were being treated at the Gwinn-Sawyer Veterinary Clinic.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.