Bethel fans may be happy that the Kuskokwim 300 sled-dog races are going forward as scheduled, but it’s also good news for mushers, who have been feeling the economic pinch in the wake of COVID-19. Race Manager Paul Basile said that the race purse could help.
“Dog mushers and dog mushing has really taken a hit in the last six months: cancelled races. And many of the mushers that come out for the K300 rely on tourism in the summer, and they lost that. Both those coming out and the local mushers rely on our races for income. We felt an obligation to try, if we can do it safely,” said Basile.
Basile said that the response has been universally positive since the race committee made the announcement that the races would be going ahead unless there are major changes in the pandemic in the region.
This winter, the K300 race won’t look like it has in the past. Mushers and handlers will have to get tested before coming to Bethel, and then have a rapid test before going to centralized housing that will be provided to isolate them from the rest of the community. The public will not be invited to indoor events, like the awards banquet. Instead, events will be live-streamed. Students from the Lower Kuskokwim School District Media Ready program did that last year.
“The award banquet in particular last year, there was a surprising number of people who actually watched the two-hour show,” he said. “That’s kind of an easy decision because we’ve done it before and know it can be done.”
The race committee is still working out details like whether the K300 will run through smaller villages, and how to keep spectators socially distant during the race start in Bethel.