Schedule of events tba
History of Kalkaska Winterfest
Kalkaska Winterfest has a long history. The following is from Frank Hall's book Tracks I've Left in the Snow...
The Great Lakes Sled Dog Association was growing and I felt that we needed a big annual race -- one to be proud of having. So I looked the Michigan map over and talked to a few people. One was a fellow who worked for the Department of Natural Resources. We needed to zero in on a good snow belt with lots of state land. So I picked Kalkaska which sort of fitted these conditions.
I went up to Kalkaska and introduced myself to a few people, letting them in on what I had in mind. One of the peorsons I talked to was a business man who owned a snowmobile dealership whose name was Carl Leach. I also went to the Chamber of Commerce and talked to them. All these persons thought this was a great idea because at that time Kalkaska had a population of 1300 and needed a shot in the arm.
Now this was before snowmobiles much. There were a number of people in town who formed a snowmobile club and had a clubhouse on the western part of town at the edge of a vast state land area. This was before there was any idea of groomed trails, etc.
The snowmobile people drove "two tracks" and such here and there knew the country like the back of their hand. They were all for having a sled dog race. They were also the means for packing the trails for a race. The name of the club was the Snow Packers Club.
By this time I felt I had picked the right town for the race. This was late 1964 so by early 1965, we had the makings of a place to have a sled dog race. Lavon Barve was a lot of help that year. He later moved to Alaska and won a lot of fame in the Iditarod--the big long distance race from Anchorage to Nome--1200 miles--which had gained world renown.
Well, by this time things were looking up for getting an established winter event in Kalksaska. We came up with a small purse. The Snow Packers packed the trail and we had our first race in Kalkaska with mainly mushers from our own sled dog club but not many out-of-state mushers. The snow packers became trail help where it was needed.
The first race went well enough so we started planning for the following year. We corrected the few problems that had come up.
There are several things to consider when putting on a well-planned race. You have (1) snow, (2) trail, (3) parking, and (4) purse. You can go on and on but these are the main things needed.
Kalkaska has been a big part of my life and as of this writing Kalkaska is the second longest existing race in the lower 48 -- forty years makes Laconia, NH number 1.
A short few years, we used two tracts for trails-packed by our friends with their snowmobiles. Then the state saw fit to establish groomed trails for the snowmobile crowd and we could train on them. On the race weekend we could use the portion of the groomed trails which proved to be like a freeway. The traveling mushers labeled Kalkaska's trail the best south of Fairbanks, Alaska.
As Kalkaska grew, we became a major race in the lower 48. I even won it a time or two before the world champions started coming. Even then I improved also. One year 29 teams entered the unlimited class. We drew our own starting positions that year. I drew #26. I was devastated. I had a great team and that meant I had a lot of passing to do. Our trail was 17.8 miles. I ended up passing 10 or 12 teams and was 22 seconds out of first place. This wasn't too bad for a corn fed country boy. That meant that the second day I'd go out #2. I had an equally good run the second day. I held my position so I ended up second for the race which was pretty good as 2 or 3 of the drivers had been world champions. I was real happy ending up in second place. It was the highlight in my racing career. Harris Dunlap took first place.
I should mention our parking method at Kalkaska at that time. It was the best. The lanes for parking all headed toward the starting chute and, in a herringbone fashion angling toward the starting chute, a slot was plowed for vehicles to back in. This made it super. Most drivers were very satisfied.
Over the years by improving the methods and such Kalkaska grew to be a very successful race. We had the best trails, parking was good, and we had good snow. Our biggest problem was coming up with a good purse. All this time, Kalkaska was growing by leaps and bounds. Oil wells were being drilled all over. In fact, on several occasions, I had to change the trail especially in the unlimited class. Big oil rigs and loads of pipe were the norm on the highways. The population grew so fast that the schools had early and late classes.
Things went like this for several years and, of course, snowmobiling exploded. The big, fast machines became popular. They were killing themselves -- 35-40 a year in Michigan alone. So for safety sake, we had to give up racing on the groomed trails. Quite a change came about. The big unlimited teams started fading. It was up to us to make a separate set of trails for dog racing just to be safe.