Beargrease volunteers kick it into overdrive in final days before Beargrease

By KBJR News 1

January 24, 2014 Updated Jan 24, 2014 at 4:46 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - John Beargrease volunteers like Suzanne Avello are working around the clock in the days leading to the 30th annual sled dog marathon.

"Well, the phone is ringing off the hook, because people want reservations for the gala," said Avello inside Beargrease office HQ in Downtown Duluth, "and then I have people stopping by to buy merchandise, but I'm trying to pack up the merchandise so I can get to the cutest puppy contest, and be ready for that."

She and others are hauling everything from boxes of merchandise to straw for the dogs to place at checkpoints along the race course.

"This year nobody's getting paid," Avello added. "We're here, we're working, and we're having fun."

For 23–year Beargrease volunteer, Mary Jo Jauert, the start of the race on Sunday at East High School will bring a sigh of relief and a gearing up for the next phase.

"But then that starts a whole new worry that they make each checkpoint, and each road crossing, O.K.," said Jauert, shortly after another round of hauling.

Those concerns will be partially alleviated by a new race feature this year: GPS tracking for mushers, tracking them from start to finish.

It's a fun way for spectators to stay up–to–date, but Jauert says it serves a more practical purpose for volunteers.

"I can go to this road crossing to make sure those people are there," said Jaert, "because I know the teams will hit that one next."

At Wednesday night's final volunteer meeting, in Duluth, Beargrease board member and mother of a musher Betsy Diver praised the weather for cooperating, and said this weekend's arctic blast will mean good running conditions for the dogs.

"I am so impressed with the way that people have come out and really tried to make this work."

But as the clock ticks down to race time, Diver says volunteers are still needed, especially in more rural checkpoints, like FInland.

The Beargrease Gala Dinner and Silent Auction starts at 6 PM Friday, at the Inn on Lake Superior.

Dan Seavey, the pioneer and patriarch of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, in Alaska, will be keynote speaker.

Billy Wagness