Quebec musher Denis Tremblay and his team cross the finish line of the Can-Am Crown 250 at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent on Monday morning. Credit: Jessica Potila/BDN

FORT KENT, Maine – After a hiatus last year due to COVID-19, the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races will kick off in March 2022 from Main Street in Fort Kent.

So far, 65 mushers from Minnesota to Madawaska and from three Canadian provinces have registered for the Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250, In Memory of Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am 100 and Pepsi/Native Dog Food Can-Am 30-mile races.

Can-Am has been the premier sled dog racing event in New England for 28 years, and draws thousands of spectators to the small northern Maine town of Fort Kent. It includes a couple of shorter races as well, but the Can-Am 250-mile race is known as the “Iditarod of the East” for the challenging course it provides mushers and their teams through the rugged northern Maine woods.

Sled dogs race down the trail at the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent. Credit: Morgan Mitchell/BDN

“We’re eager to run the race,” Can-Am Director Dennis Cyr said. “It’s been a long time coming, but we’re going to try to run it again this year and hopefully COVID cooperates.”

Quebec musher Denis Tremblay, the 2020 Can-Am 250 champion, is slated to return, as is the athlete who proved his most fierce competitor in that race, Katherine Langlais of New Brunswick, who came in second.

Sally Manikian of Shelburne, New Hampshire, will defend her 2020 Can-Am 100 championship and will face 2020 Can-Am 30 winner Rico Portalatin of Milo, who has registered for the 100 mile race this year.

The Can-Am races will begin Saturday, March 5, and organizers hope that in the coming months ever-changing border regulations will work in favor of maintaining an international event.

The Canadian government currently requires a pre-arrival negative COVID-19 PCR test result for all Canadian travelers re-entering their country, due to the omicron variant of the virus. In November, testing requirements had eased and fully vaccinated Canadians who left the country for less than 72 hours were allowed to re-enter without a PCR test.

“Out of the mushers we have coming, about half are Canadian so hopefully the  Canadian border is open,” Cyr said. “For a while it looked good and then of course with omicron we’re not sure what Canadian Customs will be doing. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this will pass us by and by March we will be full steam ahead.”

Canadian mushers have long been invested in Can-Am.

“They appreciate that Can-Am is such a quality event and they know when they come here they’re going to have nice trails, good volunteers at all the checkpoints and that all the people in Fort Kent and the St. John Valley are friendly, so they love coming here,” Cyr said.

It takes about 400 volunteers each year to keep the races running smoothly and so far, despite COVID, many have stepped up to help out with the event.

“We’ve had a good response but we’re always looking for more volunteers of course,” Cyr said. “We didn’t use the trails last year so we might have a little bit more work on the trails this year if anyone is interested.”

Volunteers are also welcome to register mushers, help out at the start and finish lines, and set up for the event.

“Anyone who has any interest in the race at all, just call and we’ll find a spot for them,” Cyr said.

For information about Can-Am or to learn more about volunteer positions, check out the event website or call Dennis Cyr at 207-231-1171.