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Local mushers guide veterans on dog sled rides

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And they're off! Eddy Streeper and a volunteer lead two veterans and their families on a dog-led jaunt. It was organized by Mandatory Fun Outdoors, a nonprofit dedicated to getting veterans and their families outdoors. <br/>
Shannon Geisen/Park Rapids Enterprise
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Joyful howls echoed throughout the Northwoods on Saturday as eager dog sled teams trekked through the wilderness with veterans.

The event was organized by Mandatory Fun Outdoors (MFO), a Park Rapids nonprofit designed to get vets and their families outdoors.

Saturday’s festivities drew 29 people, including veterans, spouses and 15 children under the age of 15.

Dog sled rides were simultaneously held for veterans in Grand Rapids on Saturday and in Duluth on Sunday.

MFO was founded by Sam Carlson, a retired Park Rapids DNR conservation officer.

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As Carlson planned this family-friendly, outdoors program, community organizations responded generously.

The Park Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau purchased hotel rooms at the C’Mon Inn for veterans. Zhateau Zorbaz provided discounted pizzas. The Park Rapids American Legion Auxiliary brought poolside snacks and hid Easter eggs for the children.

Carlson was impressed by how Park Rapids rallied for vets.

“I think it’s so important for a little town like Park Rapids to be so supportive,” she said.

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True North Kennel’s sled dogs range from two to about eight years old. “Eight is usually when they retire,” Brenna Grangroth said.<br/>
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise

Menahga mushers

True North Kennels donated all of their time, guiding families through snowy trails near Wolf Lake both Saturday morning and afternoon.

Menahga sisters Brenna and Kara Grangroth own the kennel with their elder sister, Nicole.

True North Kennels has partnered with MFO at least three other times.

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Luke Waln, a veteran from Nisswa, found the Alaskan Huskies to be super-friendly and affectionate. The Grangroths take care to socialize the dogs so they are comfortable in many situations.
Shannon Geisen/Park Rapids Enterprise

Saturday’s snowmobile ground crew included father Hunts, brother Tristan and uncle Matt, with mom Jeanette helping as well.

The Grangroths were joined by mentor Janet Bahe, a local family friend who owns sled dogs. Bahe’s boyfriend, Bob Johnson, brought his team as well.

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Mushers wrestle enthusiastic sled dogs into their positions at True North Kennels.
Shannon Geisen/ Park Rapids Enterprise

The rides departed from Jeanette’s uncle’s farm in Wolf Lake.

“We have a hunting shack about five miles out from here, roughly,” explained Brenna. “They’re going to have a lot of fun just going that five-mile loop. We’ll stop for hot chocolate and come back the same way.”

Brenna said it is rewarding to do something for those who served the country.

“They love to see the dogs get to work, do what they love to do. There’s a lot of gratitude on both ends of that. We’re able to provide them the service and they get to enjoy it as well,” she said.

Their dogs are Alaskan Huskies, which is a mixed breed. “They can look very different and they’re all the same breed,” Brenna said.

“Specialized mutts,” added Johnson.

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Saying ‘yes’

A Wadena High School graduate, Carlson grew up in a military family. All three of her brothers served – two of them during conflicts.

Carlson invited her brother, Luke Waln, to participate this weekend.

Initially, Waln resisted, saying other veterans deserved it more than him. Waln served four years in the reserves and four years in active duty.

Waln brought his teenage daughter, Tori. They drove up from Nisswa.

Both said they were excited.

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Infantryman Kyle Sommers of Lake Park, shown standing, experiences his first-ever dog sled ride. True North Kennels, owned by Menahga sisters, guided this outdoor adventure.
Shannon Geisen/Park Rapids Enterprise

Chantal Sommers said, “It must be a military thing,” because her husband, Kyle, also said he was not worthy.

Kyle recently returned from an 11-month deployment in Kuwait. He serves with the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry. He’s been in the military for 15 years. He lives in Lake Park with Chantal and their 7-year-old daughter Oakley.

This was their first time on a dog sled ride.

Carlson encourages all veterans to get involved with MFO or any one of the numerous veterans-oriented organizations.

Family-oriented

Streeper Kennels, located north of Snellman, led veterans on an outdoor adventure Saturday afternoon.

Randy Falknor, a Vietnam veteran, and wife Joletta, traveled from Sartell.

After four years in the Marines and six more in the National Guard, Falknor settled into post-military life in central Minnesota. He has a wheelchair, so MFO arranged to have extra hands to lift him into the dog sled.

Randy said it was a beautiful day for the ride, a new experience for him.

“I loved it. It was very enjoyable,” he said.

Afterward, he headed out to Fish Hook Lake for guided ice fishing. That, too, was arranged by MFO.

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Brian Halbasch brought his wife and kids to the dog sled event. They enjoyed a 20-minute ride. <br/>
Shannon Geisen/Park Rapids Enterprise

Brian Halbasch, former Hubbard County emergency manager, said his family liked the event. He was joined by wife Tiffany and daughters Ali and Shae.

Eddy and Amy Streeper are both retired competitive mushers. They are the only married couple to have ever won the prestigious Open North American Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy remains only one of two women ever to win the race in 80 years.

When racing, Amy said dog sleds travel as fast as 22 mph, but casual rides run around 10 mph.

The Streepers bred and raised their own dogs, a combination of Alaskan Husky, greyhound and German short-haired.

MFO organizes group, individual and family-oriented outdoors events year-round to encourage “fresh air, a little exercise and camaraderie.”

To learn more, visit www.mandatoryfunoutdoors.org or email mfo.information@gmail.com.

Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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