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Black Bear Casino again backs Beargrease sled dog race

The Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon had fallen on such hard times last year that the 30-year-old tradition was in danger of permanently going away. What a difference a year makes.

Race officials were beaming Friday as they accepted an oversized check for $50,000 from Black Bear Casino and Resort — the most recent in a string of events that has lifted the marathon from possible abandonment last fall to visible optimism today.

“It woke up everybody who has a love and a passion for this event and for honoring the history that it represents,” said Jason Rice, president of the Beargrease Board of Directors.

Officials announced in October that the 2014 race would be canceled, before efforts were reinvigorated to pay for and support the marathon.

Rice credited Black Bear at the establishment’s golf course clubhouse on Friday for leading a push of local businesses that have made donations to the Beargrease, which recently has been in financial turmoil.

This is the second year the resort casino will be a “presenting sponsor,” meaning its name is attached to the title of the race.

“Last year, we hoped that this would inspire other people to step in and support the race,” said Todd Defoe, marketing director for Black Bear, located south of Cloquet. The marathon also has gained sponsorships from Duluth Trading Co., Subaru and Miller Hill Subaru.

“It does a lot of good for the community,” Defoe said. “It gives us all something to rally around in the middle of winter.”

The purse for this year’s race — slated to begin Jan. 25 — is set at $45,000, up from $35,000 last year.

New this year is a drawing that will award free registration to one marathon team, one mid-distance team and one youth Cub Run team. Mushers also will be given a free stay at the resort for the first time in the race’s history.

Registration is Sept. 7 at Black Bear Golf Course.