WolfTrack sets new path

Ely Chamber takes over sponsorship of February sled dog races

by Tom Coombe
An Ely winter event will continue this season with new management.
The Ely Chamber of Commerce has taken over sponsorship and coordination of the WolfTrack Classic, a sled dog racing event that has become a staple on the local winter calendar and hearkens back to the days when the community hosted the All-American Sled Dog Races.
Set for its 12th year, the WTC’s future was in jeopardy as volunteer board members looked to pass the baton to new leadership.
“No one wanted to see the race end,” said Eva Sebesta, executive director of the Ely Chamber and a one-time WTC board member. “They were having some challenges finding additional board members want what ultimately ended up happening was that the board decided they would like to follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Islands race, which the Bayfield Chamber operates. So there was some precedence.”
The Chamber organization, which includes event coordinator Ellen Cashman, one of the original founders of the WTC, provides a fit for the race to move forward.
“We knew we were successful in doing other events,” said Sebesta. “And sled dog mushing has been such a part of the culture and history up here, with the Ely All-American which was a major force before the Iditarod... This is a good race, but we just couldn’t get hands on the board to help support it, so the Chamber is taking it on.”
Started just over a decade ago, the WolfTrack Classic conjures up memories of the days when Ely hosted the All-American races, which started a half-century ago and were arguably the community’s biggest overall event during the 1970s and 1980s.
While the WTC has faced weather challenges during its existence, with mild conditions twice forcing the cancellation of the event, it has persevered and become a draw in its own right.
Participation for this year’s event was up 20 percent compared to a 2018.
The event has also become more popular with Ely area residents and dog mushing enthusiasts who come from beyond the region to take in the festivities.
“We’ve gone from maybe 50 spectators at the starting line a few years ago to hundreds the last couple of years,” said Sebesta. “This race has been great. It draws people up. It’s been a two day event so we have people coming from all over the country to support the race and they’re staying in our lodging, eating in our restaurants.”
The 2020 event is set for the weekend of Feb. 22-23, with an art show, at the Grand Ely Lodge, musher check-in and mushers’ dinner at Vermilion Community College all part of the opening day festivities.
The race kicks off on Sunday, Feb. 23 at the softball complex on Ely’s eastern edge, with both 30 and 50-mile races in the works, the same as in 2019.
“We’re going to keep it very much the same,” said Sebesta. “The WolfTrack Classic board had been talking about doing some additional races like a kids’ race and a freight race. Right now we want to make sure we are doing a good job with the main race and maybe add those pieces in a couple years.”
Grand Ely Lodge serves as the “base camp” of sorts on race day, and it’s home to an awards ceremony and dinner following the event.
Volunteers are still needed to help with various aspects of the event, and those interested in helping may contact the Chamber at (218) 365-6123 or check out the race website at www.wolftrackclassic.com.
“We do have some volunteer groups that helped in the past and they are going to continue,” said Sebesta. (Others) can come into to the Chamber office or call or sign up on the website. We’re just excited to be doing the race and continuing to support sled dog mushing and racing in our area.”