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Musher Odin Jorgenson gives a thumbs up to his crew as he leaves Frog Point near Buxton, N.D., on the Red River enroute to the East Grand Forks checkpoint in the second annual Red River Dog Sled Derby, a 154 mile race on the Red River round trip from Halstad, Minn. to East Grand Forks, Minn. (Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald)

Sled dogs hoof it across region

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The Red River Sled Dog Derby brought 20 teams of mushers and their 12 dogs to East Grand Forks' LaFave Park on Saturday evening.

The 164 mile round-trip race on the Red River started Saturday morning in Halstad, Minn., with participants getting a break for the night in East Grand Forks. They'll make the trip back to Halstad for the finish today.

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Commemoration

Jocelyn Lerol, one of the event's organizers, said the course on the river was chosen for more than its wide-open paths and lack of road crossings.

"It's just a commemoration of the history (of the region)," she said. "Dog sleds were used in the past to move goods prior to steamships."

Frog Point, another checkpoint along the course, was a major fur trading post back then.

The race is in its second year, but organizers are already looking at making the course a bit longer. Lerol said the possibility of making it a 200-mile race would be discussed at a musher meeting today, but it will depend on what other racers want as well.

There are races in Bemidji, along the north shore area of Minnesota, and in portions of Montana. But she said this is a unique event for the region.

"Right now, we can boast that we're the only race in North Dakota and western Minnesota," she said. "It's a good, wholesome family activity."

Getting hooked

Lerol said she and her husband have been dog mushers for about 15 years. Organizing the race this year didn't give them much time to train, so this is the first year her husband hasn't raced.

Her interest in the sport started with a pet Siberian Husky named Riggs. A few months after adding Riggs to the family, they "inherited" a female husky with a surprise -- she was pregnant.

At first, Lerol said, they wanted to try it out recreationally with the pups. But it didn't take long to find a new passion.

"We got hooked on it," she said. "Then, we decided let's try our hand at racing."

Justin Robinson was at LaFave Park with his daughter, Eva, to see the teams as they came in for the night. After a documentary about the Iditarod sled dog race sparked his interest in the sport, he picked up two Alaskan Malamute puppies in January.

He said his summer employment keeps him very busy, but he has more free time in the winters. "We hope to be able to take the family on leisure runs," he said.

Robinson, a native of Cavalier, N.D., came to East Grand Forks after hearing about the race through an online search. He said Eva was having a great time watching the dogs at the park.

"She thinks they're great," he said. "She's calling every one of them our dogs' names."

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