DEERTON, Mich. (WJMN) – When the UP200 is in full swing, getting from Marquette to Grand Marais and back again is no easy task. Making sure the course is groomed, well-marked, and free of debris is a big commitment.
For UP200 Trail Boss, Mike Sjolund and a team of other trail maintenance volunteers, it’s a job they are happy to do. We joined Sjolund on the Saturday before what would have been race day.
The snowmobiles were gassed up and loaded with everything from chainsaws to shovels, axes, and branch loppers. Normally, alongside Mike on the trail is his wife, Angela Sjolund. She couldn’t make it out with us on this day. Mike Sjolund says it’s one of the best parts of the job.
“Just spending time with my family with my wife, you know, having my mom. They moved up here when my father retired, and their involvement just grew into the organization. Just the community that it brings together with the friends that we have the friends that we’ve met, the different mushers that we know and see them year after year after year. We are greeted with a smile and a hug and we’re all here together to have an event that’s special,” said Sjolund.
We followed Sjolund through the trails in the Deerton area. Our first stop was to visit one of the dozens of property owners that allow the UP200 to cross through these remote areas. We met with Enrico Sassi.
Sassi says he and his wife moved to the U.P. last year and were able to ski out to their property just in time for the race.
“We were able to sit at a park by the river and you could see the dog teams come over and it’s like it’s like ghost ships in the night. There’s the headlamp and then it kind of disappears and appears again because they’re coming along. Then you got the reflectors on the dog and it just, it’s so fast and so quiet and it’s just beautiful,” said Sassi.
After leaving Sassi’s property, we headed through an area of beautiful forest as the morning light filtered through the trees.
After following Sjolund as he groomed the trails, we stopped to clear branches hanging out onto the course and cut back any growth sticking up through the snow that could potentially hurt the dogs or mushers.
While we only spent a few hours with the team on a few miles of the 120 that they care for, it was easy to see why volunteers like Mike Sjolund come back every year.
“We’re looking for volunteers all throughout the year. Our website has a good source for signing up for doing the actual week of the events of the race. But we’re always looking for people to join the board to be a part of the group to bring new ideas, help with fundraising and volunteer coordinating. Those are the areas that we would need some good people involved.
Planning for the 2024 races starts next week. Go here to learn how you can volunteer.