No spectators at this year's Beargrease sled dog race

The 36th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog race gets underway.
The 36th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog race gets underway Jan. 26, 2020. The first musher out, Blake Freking (No. 2), of Finland Minn., was the winner of the 2019 race.
Jerry Olson for MPR News 2020

Minnesota's premier sled dog race will take place on the North Shore beginning next week, but this year spectators will not be part of the event.

The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon traditionally attracts thousands of spectators at the start of the race in Duluth, checkpoints and the finish in Grand Portage. But, because of the coronavirus pandemic, spectators have been told to stay home and watch the race online.

Race officials, mushers, handlers and the hundreds of volunteers will be required to wear a face covering.

It's a big field this year with more than 70 mushers registered between three races, WDIO-TV reported.

"The mission of our race is to support the culture of it and the reason for it. It was very important to our region, and we want to continue that tradition and be able to let them run and let the dogs do what they love to do," race spokesperson Monica Hendrickson said.

At about 400 miles, the event is billed as the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states and is a qualifier for the Iditarod race in Alaska.

The race has been held every January since 1980.

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