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Heartland 200 gives economic boost

Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber President/CEO Butch De La Hunt praised community support of the USXC Heartland 200, particularly during two days of 25-below-zero temps.

"We needed 60 volunteers each day and our community really provided an immense amount of support — spotters, our first responders, all coming out to make sure the racers were protected as they ran the course," he said.

Volunteers were from all different age groups and organizations, he said.

De La Hunt thanked the Tim Ulvin family and Salvage Depot for allowing access to the property for the start/finish line and pit area.

It was "the perfect location, so we could eliminate crossing Hwy. 34 and it's just a lot safer," he noted. "Logistically, it made it so much easier and close to town, close to restaurants, close to lodging facilities."

Following the Heartland 200, Chamber staff contacted area businesses to determine the economic impact of the event.

"We visited with our major lodging facilities," which reported being full or nearly full, De La Hunt said. Hospitality services, convenience stores, gas stations and restaurants also reported being busy.

"On weekend like this, when you look at heads and beds, this event is so important to our community, like the American Legion Fishing Derby coming up," he said.

Nevis was a "hotspot" for viewing the race. Onlookers also parked along County 89 and County 4. "Spectators really get to take in the skills of the racers on that," De La Hunt said. "Oddly enough, County 4, collectively, was the area in the race that took the most racers out of the race."

There were a couple crashes with minor injuries. "More than anything, egos were injured. Some of them rode a little bit hard, broke some equipment, and just couldn't make it through the race for whatever reason," he said.

The planning committee will soon meet to make a couple minor tweaks to next year's race course. "If we get snow, we'll be back in the woods," De La Hunt said of the 2020 Heartland 200. "Most of the circuit doesn't have a woods course like Park Rapids has to offer, so if we can get in the woods, the racers really enjoy it very, very much."

The cold weather may have had an impact on the number of vintage sleds and youth entering the Heartland 200, but otherwise the 19 classes were "well filled," De La Hunt reported.

Improved technology keeps racers warm, he explained, such as handlebar warmers, heated gloves and better helmets. The wooded portions of the course provided some protection from wind as well.

"While it's still bitterly cold, they address it very well by placing the correct equipment on and covering up all their skin. It surely still had to be cold out there."

De La Hunt is an avid snowmobiler. Many portions of the course, he said, "I consider to be my very favorite areas to go play in, and it was really a treat to see them go out there. I ride a lot. I can't say enough about the Forest Riders Snowmobile Club and Nevis Trailblazers."

The clubs groomed the trails before and after the races to "try to keep the trails in best condition so recreational riders and our tourism industry wouldn't be impacted from our trails being torn up from the racing. Then we got good snow on Monday, so all in all, I think we're in pretty good shape for our snowmobile season to continue," De La Hunt said.

He also thanked the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office and county emergency manager Brian Halbasch for their help, along with recreational riders who stayed off the race course so there were no collisions.

"It's a huge undertaking. It's a lot of work by the USXC. Brian Nelson and his staff phenomenally did a great job," De La Hunt said.

Finally, he said, "hats off to all the racing fans" for respecting the community and cleaning up after themselves. "On Sunday, I picked up one pop can."

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