For twenty years Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race enthusiast and board member Evy Gebhardt has promised mushers and spectators the biggest and best sled dog race on the Peninsula, and she has been right every year, "It has just continued to grow and evolve into a great community event on an annual basis," Gebhardt told the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce last week.
This year's event is drawing world-class mushers to the Peninsula for the "Tusty Two." Champions such as Jeff King, Martin Buser, and Dee Dee Jonrowe will be looking to claim the winner's share of the $25,000 purse, but Gebhardt believes the local field of mushers will be giving them a run for that money, "The local field is very strong this year as well with mushers like Mitch Seavey and John Little signing up, and of course my favorite Paul Gebhardt also being in the mix there too. So the caliber of mushing has grown just as the race itself has," said Gebhardt.
The Tustumena 200 has gained a reputation among mushers as being one of the most challenging Iditarod qualifiers due its terrain. The race is an out and back course that begins at the Tustumena Lodge, which is at 300 feet above sea level and climbs up to 3,000 feet elevation in the Caribou Hills. Trail conditions are better than they have been in several years, but Gebhardt would still like to see some more snow, "The impact on our trail system from the flooding we experienced last fall has been substantial and will have a great impact on which trail will or will not be used going into this year's race. We've been blessed with the snow this year, but a little more would make it a lot more dog friendly," explained Gebhardt.
In 1998 the T-200 picked up Kenai Chrysler Center as its major sponsor and added a ceremonial start in Kenai to give with special challenges a chance to ride up front of a professional musher behind a racing team. An event that has put heart into the race and given mushers a chance to give back to the community, "It's become very popular and very rewarding. The Tusty-200 isn't just about the sled dog race and the prize money," said Gebhard. According to Gebhardt the best place to view the ceremonial start is at Kenai Chrysler Center, and the re-start at the Tustumena Lodge at mile 111 in Kasilof. Snow machiners can view the race from along the trail in the Caribou Hills, but are asked to avoid the marked trail and not directly interact with the teams. Any one knowing of a special needs child who would like to participate in the ceremonial start may contact Kenai Chrysler Center.
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