Weather, land rule cancel Tustumena 200 race

A lack of winter weather — and a lack of flexibility in the federal Wilderness Act — will mean a lack of the Kenai Peninsula’s premiere mushing race this year.

The race’s 30th anniversary will have to wait. The Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race, scheduled for Jan. 30, has been canceled.

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Photo: Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race Association Facebook page.
Photo: Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race Association Facebook page.

“It’s the third year in a row that we don’t have the snow conditions to make the race happen,” says race director Tami Murray.

The race route from Kasilof to Homer and back through the Caribou Hills is more ice than snow, crossing several large streams that aren’t frozen over. Murray said that the only way to find snow and avoid dangerous water crossings would be to move the race to the upper elevations of the hills, but that’s a federally designated wilderness area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The T200 Board of Directors requested an exception from the Wilderness Act stipulation that bans competitive races, in hope of being able to use a 30-mile section of trail on the refuge. But word came Wednesday that the request was denied.

“I don’t want people to be discouraged with the refuge because they did actually do what they could to try to help us but there’s only so many laws that can be bent and that definitely is not one of them.”

The area is open to public use, and snowmachiners and mushers have been enjoying the powder up high, but T200 racers won’t be among them. Murray said that Refuge Manager Andy Loranger broke the news to her Wednesday afternoon.

“It was a valiant effort on everybody’s part and the refuge, as well. Andy did all he could, talked to every agency about it and just could not find a way, a loophole, to allow us in.”

The board could have postponed the race a week, but the long-term forecast doesn’t promise much snow, nor cold-enough temperatures to count on the stream crossing freezing over.

“We definitely worked hard and looked at every option we could to put on a safe race but it’s virtually impossible in the conditions we have.”

Murray said the T200 board will just have to start planning for next year’s race.

“I don’t think we’ll have any problem with our sponsors, they understand that weather is a huge part of what we’re doing. And the volunteers will come no matter what. It’s disappointing to them because it’s a fun event and they like to be a part of it. And the community itself will be disappointed, I’m sure.”

And hope the wimpy winter weather streak doesn’t continue for a fourth year.