In the summer of 1988, musher Jeffrey Mann and his family moved to Marquette, Michigan from Seattle. Not long after arriving, he met the families of Scott & Elise Bunce and Tom and Sarah Lindstrom. The group soon discovered a common thread in their lives: sled dog racing. Scott and Elise were training a team of their own, and Tom was the past President of the Beargrease Association which sponsors the well known Beargrease 10 and 6 dog races in Minnesota. Jeff had been an avid and successful racer while living in Alaska.
As they spent time together, the families often talked of having a race in the Upper Peninsula. They discussed the idea with friends and met with others who were interested, finally deciding to formulate a race plan. When the race finally began to take shape, the trail encompassed Marquette, Alger, and Delta counties, and ran from Marquette to Chatham, Rapid River, Escanaba, Gwinn, and back to Marquette. People throughout the area began to become excited, volunteering their time and abilities to the efforts. Many local businesses began to offer financial support as well, and the event grew from an idea to reality. What started with three families soon grew into a group of many families, bringing their unique talents and ideas, immersing them into this new challenge. Some were former Alaskans missing a familiar pastime. Others had followed news of races in other areas for years and looked forward to a race hosted in their native region. Several had teams of their own, and were ecstatic over the opportunity to race in their home territory.
Through the Marquette Chamber of Commerce, Jeff met LouAnn Balding, who quickly became a key member of the race committee, investing her considerable organizational abilities in the project. From this diverse group emerged a strong commitment and on a snowy Friday evening in February of 1990, the dedication and perseverance finally paid off. To the cheers of 10,000 spectators, the mushers of the first UP 200 Sled Dog Championship ten dog race sped down Washington street in Marquette and into the night. At midnight, in the community of Chatham the first Midnight Run racers departed on the long, cold journey toward Escanaba. These racers went on their way into history, with many “tails of the trails” for the years to come. Since that time, the UP200 and Midnight Run have been extremely successful events each year. In 2003, the UP200 race trail was moved to Grand Marais as the turnaround point, and in 2014, the Midnight Run trail was altered to turn around in Chatham and return to Marquette for the finish.
This is the story of how the U.P. 200 & Midnight Run became a reality. Sled Dog racing itself typically involves every member of the family. Traveling by sled dog is no longer a necessity; it has become a hobby and a sport. Today’s mushers do not take part in this activity for money or fame, because there is very little of both in sled dog racing. When you look at this sport, it always comes back to one thing – it’s about the dogs.