FORT KENT, Maine — Hundreds of excited dogs yipped and howled at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent Friday as they arrived for the 30th Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races.
The ski lodge serves as “Can-Am Central,” headquarters for all things related to the races. First up are veterinarian checkups for the dogs to ensure their fitness for the competition.
More than 60 mushers are registered for the Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250, Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am Crown 100 and Pepsi/Native Dog Food Can-Am Crown 30. The competitors range in age from 15 to 68 and come from as far away as Minnesota and three Canadian provinces.
As fun and exciting as it is for the dogs, the Can-Am also benefits Fort Kent. The race draws thousands of spectators to the small northern Maine border town, which receives an economic boost as a result.
watch the sled dog races
“It fills us up,” Northern Door Inn manager Carl Pelletier said. “And there’s a lot of spinoff to the other businesses.”
Pelletier said he has become familiar with some of the longtime Can-Am mushers who stay at Fort Kent’s only motel.
“I’ve been here 17 years and some of the people I’ve seen 17 times,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for better guests.”
Young 30-mile musher Gabriel Gaudreau of St-Denis de Brompton, Quebec, will participate in Can-Am for the first time, although he is no stranger to the races.
“I saw my dad do it. I am following my dad,” the younger Gaudreau said Friday. “I like to be with the dogs.”
The 15-year-old has come to Fort Kent many times before to cheer on his father, musher Luc Gaudreau.
“It’s the big race of the season,” Luc Gaudreau said.
Many volunteers also keep coming back after their first Can-Am experience. Veterinary technician Mike Santasieri of Massachusetts, who helped examine dogs Friday, first volunteered at the races last year.
“I fell in love with it,” Santasieri said. “Now I think I’m hooked.”
The dogs are looking good to go this year, Santasieri said, although he expressed concern that Saturday’s weather may be warmer than optimal.
The National Weather Service in Caribou forecast sun with daytime temperatures of 30 to 34 throughout the weekend.
“I would rather be a little on the chilly side than have the dogs be uncomfortable, because they’re the ones putting in the work,” Santasieri said.
The Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races will kick off at 8 a.m. Saturday on Main Street in Fort Kent. Mushers and teams competing in the 100-mile race will take off from the starting line first, followed by 30-mile competitors at about 9:10 a.m. Participants in the 250 mile race will start at about 10:20 a.m.
For the first time, WFKTV Channel 4 will provide a livestream of New England’s longest sled dog race free to viewers.
For more information about the Can Am Crown International Dog Sled Races, including a live link to follow the mushers’ progress, visit the organization’s website.