GRAND MARIS, Mich. (WJMN) – Nestled on the south shore of Lake Superior in the Eastern U.P. lies the village of Grand Marais. Population 234.

“We’re really like an island, we have to depend on each other heavily,” said Jennifer Williamson, owner of The Breakwall and Grand Marais Powersports. “I kind of equate it to like a family. So when you like some and you like others maybe a little bit more but at the end of the day, you’re all going to be together so you might as well figure out how to make it work.”

When the UP200 comes to Grand Marais, this family comes together to put on the largest winter event in town.

“In 2003, three weeks before the race, there wasn’t enough snow down in Escanaba to run the race on the trail that they’ve been using for many years,” said Cathy Egerer, Grand Marais Checkpoint Coordinator. “So the race organizers took a look around and said, ‘Where can we put a halfway checkpoint?’ They started driving east and they ended up in Grand Marais. So they talked to a couple of groups in town and the Chamber of Commerce said, ‘I think we can put something together for you.’ But, they only had three weeks left to go. That not only involved rounding up all of the volunteers for road crossings, but laying out a trail between basically Chatham and Grand Marais. So they pulled that off and it worked really well so the next year, the race organization thought let’s just make it a permanent change and so the race has been coming up here ever since.”

This would have been the 20th year sled dogs raced into the checkpoint. Rain and warm temperatures made the trails hazardous, causing the race to be canceled for 2023. Egerer. has been on board with the events that happen in Grand Marais on UP200 weekend all of those years.

“I like seeing all of the people come into town that haven’t seen a race before because it’s really a special event,” said Egerer. “Where are you going to see something like this? You know there aren’t that many to start with and then to be able to get up close to see it in person like this, it’s a special thing.”

That’s exactly what the festivities in Grand Marais are all about. Even though the races are canceled, the community is putting on their own event called Grand Marais Winterfest Powered by NMU on Saturday at the Grand Marais Community center with raffle and auction, kids crafts, snow painting, pie sale, ice skating, bonfires and music just to name a few.

“It’s very exciting to see so many people come to town to visit and get a chance to see the sled dogs,” said Jeannie Kain, owner of Grand Marais Outfitters. “It really is as many people as there is in the summer and they’re all enjoying the winter weather and cardboard sled races on the hill and kids activities. It’s really a great time.”

“A lot of people look forward to it,” said Williamson. “They come into town specifically for this. A lot of our rentals, hotels and all of that are booked out well in advance because people are so excited to be able to come for that weekend. We get a lot of families up here because it’s an opportunity for the kids to come. In the winter it’s hard to find something that’s so unique and enjoyable for families, kids, that kind of thing.”

Williamson says she got involved thanks to her neighbor.

“Dave Poole has worked for years kind of manning the outside and the dogs coming in and out and all the traffic and that kind of thing,” said Williamson. “Got the lovely position of standing outside all day long. So he was looking to start transitioning out of that position and looking for somebody to fill it. Being neighbor and friends, I kind of got pulled into that and I love the UP200 event anyway myself so it was a neat opportunity for me to take advantage of being a part of it and I absolutely love it.”

She says it’s somethings that everyone wants to be part of in one way or another.

“So we depend heavily on each other in order to make anything really work and to operate from a personal stance to an event stance,” said Williamson. “We actually have a lot of people that come from out of the area to volunteer because they love this event so much. It takes a lot of people, a lot of coordinating, but because I think it’s an unique feature and because it’s the dog sled, people want to be part of it. It’s not been overly difficult to find volunteers which is kind of a neat thing. Especially being out in the middle of nowhere.”

If you’re looking to experience sled dogs in a different way, you might just find that magic in Grand Marais

“It’s worth the trip,” said Egerer.

“You don’t get this town feel anymore,” said Williamson. “Everyone is so very disconnected in other areas and really about themselves in their own little micro-world and here you really worry about everyone else.”

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