Questions of organization remain as Yukon Quest nears

Well, $10,000 is better than nothin’. After failing to properly apply for an annual $20,000 grant from Fairbanks, the Yukon Quest…

Well, $10,000 is better than nothin’.

After failing to properly apply for an annual $20,000 grant from Fairbanks, the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race has finagled $10,000 from city politicians.

“There was an unfortunate miscommunication where we believed that we would not have to apply for the discretionary bed-tax funding this year,” said Tania Simpson, executive director of the Yukon Quest Alaska office in Fairbanks. “(Fairbanks Mayor Terry Strle) put together a proposal in the summer that would see six organizations, of which we were one … not have to apply on an annual basis, nor would we have to do a presentation in front of city council at the end of each year for that funding.”

Unbeknownst to the Quest planners, the proposal was rejected by the city council. Unfortunately, once the Fairbanks office learned of its mistake, the grant application deadline had passed — almost a month before — on October 31.

In response to concerns that the missing grant money may endanger the very existence of the 1,600-kilometre sled dog scheduled to begin in Whitehorse February 14, Monday evening the Fairbanks city council awarded $10,000 to the Quest.

“We are certainly grateful for the city council for allocating the $10,000 from the general fund to the Yukon Quest,” said Simpson.

“They decided not to send it back to the bed-fund tax discretionary fund committee based on the fact that there was a deadline and felt it was unfair to the other organizations who had submitted their applications on time.”

Still short $10,000 of their $600,000 budget, the Fairbanks branch of the race will be stepping up fundraising initiatives by soliciting support from individuals, corporations and current sponsors.

So far things look promising.

“We’ve received a number of calls already this morning from both individuals and corporations that have been following what’s been happening this last week,” said Simpson. “And we are seeing that support already and I’m confident that more will continue.”

Failure to secure the grant heightens concerns about the Quest’s ability to stage the race. Last year, Fairbanks bungled the trail preparation on the Alaskan section of trail.

During the race, trailbreakers began preparing the Yukon River section the same day frontrunners were entering it. The result was a debacle as teams had severe difficulty navigating the snarls of ice.

In response to last year’s trail troubles, the Fairbanks office has, for the first time, hired an experienced dog sledder to lay track from Fairbanks to the border. Veteran musher John Schandelmeier, two-time champion of the Quest, has agreed to fill this position.

“We’re certainly very fortunate to have John Schandelmeier on our team this year,” said Simpson. “So we’re very confident this year that we’re going to have a safe trail for the dogs and mushers.”

One early indication that the Quest is on the track is the increase of teams already entered. As of Monday, 40 mushers have registered for February’s race, the highest number since the mid-1980s.

Simpson lists various reasons for the increase of teams entered, including heightened media coverage in recent years and a continued modest entry fee of $1,500 (US), compared to the $4,000 (US) fee for the Iditarod.

“I also think the Iditarod and the increase in their fees has played some part in this,” said Simpson. “People also look at the trail, and having John Schandelmeier behind that — putting that trail in — has instilled a lot of confidence in this year’s field.

“We’re thrilled to see this number of mushers. We’ve got a wonderful field of both veterans and rookies. It’s going to be a terrific race.”

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