Sled dog event returns to Ice Time

DOWAGIAC — Mid-Union Sled Haulers, known best for its promotion of sled dog racing as a fun, family activity, will be among the featured attractions of Dowagiac’s Ice Time Festival on Saturday, Feb. 2.

Kris Soenen, festival chairman, said she is thrilled to bring this event back to Dowagiac, where most residents in southwestern Michigan have not experienced this winter sport. 

“Mushing and sled hauling is a winter activity that is alive and well in Michigan, in both the upper and lower peninsulas, and locally at Fort Custer State Recreational Area, located between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek,” she said.

Now in its 23rd year, the winter festival of the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce has been profiled as one of the many creative ways communities across the nation celebrate the bone-chilling months of winter, according to Vickie Phillipson, program director of the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce.

Mid-Union Sled Haulers, also known as MUSH, is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to dog sledding on an amateur basis.  A meet and greet, featuring Paw Paw resident Jan Bloom and his four sled dogs, will be held from 10 to 3 p.m. on Beeson Street, where families can get a first-hand look at the dogs and equipment used for sled dog hauling.

Sled dog racing is one of North America’s oldest winter sports.  Mid-Union Sled Haulers hosts races and training sessions in various locations throughout Michigan. In September, the organization starts training for race season, which gets underway in January. Members of the group find the cooler temperatures in fall provide an ideal time to optimize the dog’s physical condition, as they also build on team commands.

Experts say the dogs of today’s racing teams are athletes, which share an incredible bond with their driver. Arctic breeds, such as Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds and Siberian Huskies are frequently used in sled dog racing.  Other breeds and crossbreeds are common, such as the Alaskan Husky and the Euro hound, which is a mix of a German short-haired Pointer, English Pointer and Greyhound.

Most dogs range in size from 40 to 60 pounds and are kept at an optimal, healthy weight.  Bloom and others like him favor even-tempered animals that are gentle and able to stand the pressure of rigorous training.

Mid-Union Sled Hauler’s appearance at Ice Time was underwritten by this year’s corporate sponsors, which include: Clark Chapel/Starks Family Funeral Home, Dowagiac Area Federal Credit Union, Dowsett Chiropractic Health Center, Lyons Industries and SEMCO.

Ice carving gets underway by 8 a.m. Feb. 2, as single-block sculptures are created along Front Street.  Festival highlights also feature the Chili Crawl, Lil Chippers Outside Game Area, the Frozen Fish Toss Open Competition, the Hot Spot featuring a bonfire and s’mores and new this year, an Ice Castle Youth Build.  Select specialty shops will offer winter clearance sales, with in-store events being hosted at Caruso’s Candy Kitchen, Dowagiac Area History Museum, Dowagiac District Library, Front Street Crossing and Who Knew? Consignment.

For a full schedule of events, visit DowagiacChamber.com or the Chamber on Facebook.

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