Crowds gather along Creeper Trail to was sled dogs and mushers re-enact historic event

News, Other sled dogs races, Others, Sled dogs Add comments

Barking and yipping with excitement, the dogs leap into the air, tugging at the ropes that tie them together as a team.

The musher releases the sled from its mooring, and they’re gone, with several pairs of huskies pulling the wheeled sled along the Virginia Creeper Trail toward Damascus.

“They’re bred, born and trained to pull, and that’s what they want to do so badly,” said Barbara Bennett, who planned her trip from West Lafayette, Ind., around this weekend’s events.

“When the musher gets out the sled, every dog in the kennel, even the retired ones … will be up leaping in the air trying to get the musher’s attention because they all want to pull that sled.”

With Bennett was Mischief, an Alaskan husky who has run the Iditarod – the famous 1,150 mile Alaskan sled dog race across the Arctic tundra, which is the ultimate goal of several mushers – or dogsled drivers – here this weekend.

Hundreds of people turned out on a frigid Saturday morning, despite intermittent snow flurries and a biting wind, to watch the dogs in the second annual re-enactment of a 1925 dogsled run that brought life-saving medicine to an isolated Alaskan town.

The Blue Ridge Dryland Challenge, a dogsled race at 10 a.m. today, brings mushers from all around the Southeast to compete on the Creeper Trail.

The 5-mile race is from Straight Branch to the Damascus Town Park, with another race beginning at the same time from the Iron Horse Campground for smaller dogsled teams.

“This is the only dogsled race in the Southeast,” said Alice White, 19, as her dog pulled her down the trail on a scooter outside of Damascus on Saturday. “There’s people sitting on the side of the road in their cars taking pictures, and people pulling off to the side, just sort of like there’s a big carnival going on almost.”

Along with the activity surrounding the dogsleds, the town park also hosted a bonfire with free hot chocolate and donuts, dachshund races, a lumberjack competition and booths for local organizations to share programs and information.

White, who lives in Armuchee, Ga., said the sport of dogsled racing has been growing with the availability of equipment that makes it possible to run sled dogs one or two at a time, hundreds of miles from the frozen north.

“You don’t have to have a big team or live way up north anymore,” White said.

Nearly 100 cars of people followed the dogs from the start in Abingdon to the relays at Watauga, Alvarado, the Iron Horse Campground and into Damascus, where hundreds more awaited the teams’ arrival.

At the lone store in Alvarado, which opened up with free food and hot chocolate despite being closed for the season, owner Belle Avery said the crowd had increased tenfold since last year’s debut.

Husky News

David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier
Chapin Burgess and Kathy Anderson make their way from the Iron Horse Campground to Damasus during the final leg of the serum relay Saturday morning from Abingdon.

In Damascus, musher Chapin Burgess said he saw as many as 1,000 people watching along the trail.

In addition to running dogs on the trail Saturday, Burgess is also training 16-year-old Fayth Smith of Gastonia, N.C., to be a musher.

“I was 3 whenever I watched ‘Balto’ [an animated film about the 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaska],” Fayth said. “I wanted a Siberian husky, and I wanted to mush.”

Both she and Burgess hope to compete in the Iditarod in 2010, and Burgess added that running trails like the Creeper is part of the dogs’ training for the long race.

“I like running doggies, and this is a good trail,” said Burgess, who is toying with the idea of opening a dogsled tour company in town.

“I think it’s just curiosity,” said event organizer Marcia Horne, of Siberian Husky Assist Rescue, about this year’s crowd.

Horne, of Bristol Virginia, said Winterfest – now an annual event – was started to educate people in the area about the dog breed they rescue – and she never guessed it would be such a hit.

She said if the event grows again next year as expected, she’ll need help from many more volunteers.

In Alvarado, Avery said she’ll be ready next year with a full country breakfast – to be given out free.

In Damascus, some hope the annual Winterfest will grow enough to help give a mid-winter boost to the town’s tourism-based economy.

“This event this year was a lot bigger than last year,” said Damascus Vice Mayor Marianna Farmer. “We hope that it will grow and be much larger next year.”

Source: The Bristol Herald Courier

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

WP Theme & Icons by N.Design Studio
Entries RSS Comments RSS Log in