Heal Creek Dog Dash to highlight opportunities at land newly acquired by City of Rhinelander

By Eileen Persike


RHINELANDER – A 416-acre section of wooded land recently gifted to the city of Rhinelander will be highlighted next month when skis, sleds, dogs and mushers converge on the property near the Northwood Golf Course.

The Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club is hosting the inaugural Heal Creek Dog Dash and Winter Festival Saturday, Feb. 26 and Sunday, Feb. 27.

Longtime Rhinelander physician and silent sports enthusiast Dr. Lee Swank donated the property to the city. The Rhinelander City Council approved a resolution Jan. 10 to approve a quit claim deed that transferred the land to the city. The idea for the sled dog race at Heal Creek came from Mayor Chris Frederickson, who said he wants to find ways to use and support the area.  He reached out to friend and dog sled musher Pete Thompson, who reached out to experienced race planner Niina Baum.

“I had thought about doing a race in Rhinelander before, but there have never been enough trails in the same location, and now with the city’s support, we’re able to groom extra trails to get the mileage we need, so it’s actually possible now,” Baum said.

Nothing like the 1,000-mile, weeks-long Iditarod that so often comes to mind, the dog dash is for sprint racing. There will be two- and six-mile courses. Instead of the husky dog breeds that are built to stay warm, sprint racing will feature more hound crosses, such as German shorthair and greyhounds – dogs that are strong and fast.

Baum said there are currently 50 entries to the races, which will include a couple of junior classes for two- and three-dog sleds on a two-mile course, as well as a variety of adult race classes, from two to 10 dogs on a six-mile course. Also on the six-mile course will be skijoring, which is skiing with dogs.

Racing is a big part of Baum’s life; she’s competed for 20 years – beginning as a six-year-old. She now serves on a couple of boards for dog mushing, including the Trailblazers club that is hosting the Heal Creek event and the U.S. Federation of Sled Dog Sports, which promotes sled dog sports to become an Olympic sport. She is also responsible for putting in bids to host world championships in the United States.

“I’ve actually been talking with Minocqua Winter Park about potential world championships down the road,” Baum said. “That would be really cool if that happened.”

Though she made the team for the World Championships held this winter in Europe, last week Baum made the difficult decision to stay home. COVID testing requirements, frequent flight cancelations and traveling with dogs in general turned the idea of competing for the U.S. a “nightmare.”

The festival part of the Dog Dash event was included for Saturday to draw the community together, Baum said. Rhinelander Brewing Company will be selling a specialty Musher’s Brew, and Joe’s Pasty Shop will have pasties for purchase. Live music, snowshoeing, sledding, viewing the race and meeting the dogs and racers are also part of this first-year event. The action begins at 9 a.m. Feb. 26.

For more information, find the event on Facebook.

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