The Canyon Sled Dog Challenge for skijorers and sled dog teams will be held on Saturday, February 22, if conditions allow. The challenge is an out-and-back 18-mile mid-distance run on the Pine Creek Rail Trail near Wellsboro.
In skijoring, a competitor on cross-country skis wears a skijoring harness attached by a 12-foot towline to a sledding harness worn by one or two dogs. The human doesn't have to be an expert skier and the dogs can include healthy mutts or purebreds of any type that love to run and tow.
Beginning at 9 a.m., the skijorers and their dogs followed by the mushers and their sled dog teams will leave in two-minute intervals from the Marsh Creek Access in Ansonia. They will run nine miles on the Pine Creek Rail Trail to Tiadaghton, turn around at a small teardrop loop, and run nine miles back to Ansonia.
The Pine Creek Rail Trail's Darling Run Access parking lot is the only spectator area for this event. Spectators who park there will get great views of the fast-paced down and back action.
"At the start in Ansonia, there will only be room for skijorers, the mushers, and their dogs, not spectators,” said Mary Beth Logue, challenge organizer. Spectators are asked to stay off the trail until the challenge ends and leave their own dogs at home.
The six- or eight-sled dogs on a pro team are Alaskan huskies and on a registered breed team are purebreds like the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, Samoyed, and Chinook.
“Skijorers and sled dog teams are pretty quiet,” said Logue. “Spectators might hear the mushers and skijorers giving some commands but rarely do you hear the dogs bark. They are happy and smiling when they are pulling a skier or a sled,” Logue said. "All of these dogs are born to run."
To get to the Darling Run Access, take Route 6 to Shippen Township, turn onto Route 362, drive about 1.5 miles, turn right, enter the access area slowly and park.
“Most sled dog and skijoring teams wait until the last minute to register to make sure an event like this is going to be held,” Logue noted. “That is dependent on how much snow or ice there is on the Pine Creek Rail Trail." She has talked to competitors from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, New Hampshire, and New Jersey who are planning to come. "We will let them know Wednesday, February 19 if the challenge is on,” she said.
“If we can’t do the challenge, then I will have my dogs and equipment at the Darling Run Access at 9 a.m. on Feb. 22," said Logue. "Spectators will be able to meet my dogs and talk with me about this sport. There may be other activities as well.”
If the challenge is a go, the public is invited to meet the competitors and their dogs from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Friday night, February 21, at the Burnin’ Barrel on Route 6 in Ansonia (GPS address: 5440 U.S. Route 6, Wellsboro, Pa. 16901) At the 7:30 p.m. mushers meeting, the starting order for the skijorers and teams will be announced and competitor questions answered.
On Saturday, Feb. 22, the Burnin' Barrel will open at 11 a.m. for lunch. There will be three varieties of Straub beer on tap. A representative from challenge sponsor Straub Brewery of St. Marys, Pa. will be on hand with a limited supply of T-shirts and pint glasses.
No matter whether the challenge or different activities will be at the Darling Run Access on February 22, Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries will be there with hot chocolate, coffee, and snacks available for purchase with all proceeds to benefit the animals in their care.
Challenge organizers are the Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry and the Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce.