Likely no live spectators at Beargrease

There will be a new opportunity to participate in a different sort of race.

Racer Talia Martens slaps hands with volunteer Binner Rahn at the start of the 2020 John Beargrease 120-mile mid-distance race while the crowd looks on. (File / News Tribune)

Carmen Schempp, president of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Race Board of Directors, is committed to attempting to hold a race in 2021. The board recently set the start date for Sunday, Jan. 31.

But it's not likely that the race will be able to host any spectators at the start or at any of the points along the race.

"We get anywhere from between 1,000 to 2,500 people at the start, and it's not a situation where you can easily and safely socially distance spectators," Schempp said. "Based on that, we are saying it's unlikely that we'll be allowed to allow spectators."

Events like the sled dog race have a maximum capacity of 250 people under health guidelines from the state of Minnesota.

"And when we think about it, that's not 250 people in addition to all the people involved in an official capacity," Schempp said. "That includes our mushers, our handlers, the race officials, board of directors, volunteers, veterinarians and so on. That's a lot of people as it is."


Fans of the race don't have to despair though, the race will still be able to be covered by media outlets and by QPAWS , a race series Beargrease joined for the first time in 2020.

"It's an international race series that really upped our game last year as far as online spectator presence," Schempp said. "We had more livestreaming of the race and interviews along the trails and I think we'll see that step up again this year."

COVID-19 has also impacted the race in another way: financially. Usually, the race counts on many business sponsors, but Schempp said they've had a lot of partners unsure if they can commit.

"Their businesses have taken a hit due to COVID, so that hits us as well," Schempp said.

Unable to host their usual large in-person fundraisers, the board has gone a different route and created a new virtual 5K race, called the John Beargrease Fur-K to be held Sept. 24-25. Participants can run, walk or hike a 5K wherever they'd like and log their finish times and race info online. All entries receive a T-shirt.

"We've seen entries from all of the U.S. and even from other countries so far," Schempp said. "We're at around 425 entries so far, so it's been nice to see that good show of support."

Families receive a discounted entry price and participants can form teams to compete against each other. Signup for the race can be found at .

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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