Snow conditions are ideal for this weekend’s U.S. X-Country Snowmobile Race (USXC).
The Heartland 200 brings racers throughout the region to Park Rapids for a two-day race through the northwoods.
“We expect 110 to 125 racers,” Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber President/CEO Butch De La Hunt said. “We’re the second race of the year, and racers are excited. They like to race in the woods, and Park Rapids is the only woods terrain race.”
He said snow conditions are excellent for a woods race, with over three feet of snow already this season.
“The two snowmobile clubs have been doing a fantastic job grooming the trails,” he said.
The start/finish line and pit area for racers is once again off State Hwy. 34, on the east side of Park Rapids behind the Salvage Depot.
Gates open at 8 a.m. each day. An admission fee of $10 will be charged at the gate. Children 12 and under are admitted free. The public can access the parking area and start/finish line by entering at AmericInn and following posted signs.
Saturday’s race begins at 10 a.m., with the Sunday race set to begin at 9 a.m. In the event of extreme cold and/or heavy snow, races will start one hour later.
“We anticipate we should be able to have all of the racers off the course between 2 and 3 p.m.,” he said. “Hot Country 92.5 FM will carry live race coverage from the USXC headquarters so people can follow the racing action as they move around the race route. This is a very unique feature for the Park Rapids race because pit crews can track race progress in real-time.”
De La Hunt said, since draft race maps were posted earlier this month, teams have already been to the Park Rapids lakes area scouting the course in preparation for the event.
“This year, I believe we will have the most local racers we have had since the event came to Park Rapids,” he said.
Racers may register online at www.usxcracing.com until 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16 or at the USXC registration event from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17 at the C’Mon Inn on Hwy. 34. Race information, including rules and safety, are also featured at usxracing.com.
De La Hunt said many improvements have been made to this year’s race.
“Racing on the Heartland Trail, one of our main feeder trails going east/west between Park Rapids and Walker, has been eliminated from the race route to improve movement for recreational riders,” he said.
“The race committee has worked hard with area snowmobile clubs to determine the new route. This year’s race route also relies heavily on ditches, and to the extent possible, limits the use of existing published groomed trails to minimize impact on recreational riders here for the weekend.”
De La Hunt explained this year’s race will not go on any lakes.
He said the success of the USXC is due to the involvement of the whole community.
“A big part of the race is working with First Responders and the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office and other emergency response teams to make sure the event is safe,” De La Hunt said.
In addition to Chamber participation, the event is made possible by local race organizers, snowmobile clubs, law enforcement, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, business and community sponsors and volunteers.
Race spotters will be placed at road intersections and selective snowmobile trails to intercept riders who inadvertently get on the trail or ignore signage.
Volunteers can sign up to help with the race on a link at the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber website or by calling Joe Higgins at 252-4935 or the Chamber at 732-4111.
The race features 19 classes, including junior, pro, open and classic, and offers racers a chance to complete one lap around a course that is more than 100 miles long in two days. The same course will be run both days. The Juniors, Vintage and Classic IFS Run will be Saturday only. For more information and race maps, go to www.parkrapids.com.
The USXC draws participants who compete in a racing circuit that includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North and South Dakota as well as Canada.
USXC will place over 3,500 signs on the race route, including signs at trail head-ends and intersections specifying race dates and times to avoid the trail. Spotters will also be at designated stop locations to make sure traffic is clear.
This year’s race will go through several communities in the Park Rapids Lakes Area, first traveling along Cty. Rd. 4 to Emmaville. The route goes through the Paul Bunyan Forest to Akeley and on the Wilder North and Coon Lake trails, as well as the ditch on the north side of Hwy. 34 near Nevis.
There will be a fuel stop in the Paul Bunyan Forest.
“We tentatively have plans to close the Gulch Road (#91), except for pit crews and fuel stop personnel until we have the racers safely through that corridor,” De La Hunt said.
He said racers will return to Park Rapids by way of Cty. Rd. 4 on the west side back to the start and finish line.
“As we did last year, we will coordinate with both of the snowmobile clubs to groom the race course immediately following the race each day to get the trails back into shape,” he said.