FAVORITE PLACES TO LIVE AND MUSH: THE NORTHEAST U.S.

When you want to dig into the history of mushing, you can head in many directions. One of the seemingly more unlikely is east. In this second part in a series on Favorite Places to Live and Mush, Mushing magazine heads to the snowy hills of the Eastern region, breaking down our coverage to focus on Maine, New Hampshire and New York. MaineWith jagged, rocky coastlines that once inspired marine biologist and writer Rachel Carson, Maine is best known for lobsters, lighthouses and L.L. Bean. Separated from Quebec only by a slim range of the Appalachian Mountains, Maine is home to acres and acres of vast pine forests, cold snowy winters, and most notably for mushers, the Down East Sled Dog Club and the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race. At the time of this article, there were already warnings of “significant snow accumulation” in the White Mountain National Forest where Sara Vanderwood of Mushing USA trains. She and her 24 Alaskan and Pointer crosses started mushing in 1976 and run sprint and Nordic races throughout the Eastern region. Vanderwood says typical snowfall lasts from the beginning of December until mid-March or the first week of April. She says, “We had over 100 inches of snow last year, but a more typical year sees about 50 to 60 inches.” The State of Maine Emergency Management Agency reported an average of 60 to 90 inches of annual snowfall at the time of this article. Vanderwood says the snow conditions tend to vary widely in Maine, shifting from snow to rain and ice, but she adds, “Where we train is more in the mountains so there is more consistent snow.” Amy Dugan of Greenville says, “Our temps can range anywhere from negative 30 to 40 above in the winter, and snowfall is fairly decent.” In fact, according to a Greenville census, the small town of 1,623 residents averages more than 100 inches of snow annually. “Though we have had some bad winters recently, last winter was a good one with more than enough snow,” Dugan says.Vanderwood says the White Mountain National Forest and Grafton Notch State Park are good areas for training: “There are rounded mountains with a lot more gradual grades.” She says most mushers utilize these areas, but there is more “terrain variation in the Jackman area of Maine, on the Québec border,” also known as the “Switzerland of Maine.” In the White Mountains, Vanderwood runs on a two-lane tar road that is groomed for snowmobiles in the winter and has a gradual gain of six to eight hundred feet of elevation. She warns about utilizing snowmobile trails for mushing, however, citing a recent accident involving a musher who was hit by a drunken snowmobiler. “I haven’t experienced a lot of problems [with snowmobiles], but I am particular about the trails I run on,” she adds. Grafton Notch State Park boasts “thousands of miles of maintained snowmobile trails” on its Web site stretching from Maine all the way into Canada and New Hampshire.Dugan proudly says, “Training [in Maine] is pretty awesome as we are on the edge of a large amount of wilderness with hundreds of miles of logging roads to train on.” In fact, Maine is the least populated state east of the Mississippi with some 90 percent of its land forested. Moreover, parts of the interior of Maine are uninhabited and lack a formal local government. Dugan admits it is very rural, which has been a plus for obtaining a kennel license, she says. “The only problem might be working around a logging operation, but there are a lot of options. We can run out our door or travel anywhere from 5 minutes to a half hour to a trail head,” she says.Zoning regulations for kennels in Maine vary by township. Vanderwood says most counties require a municipal kennel license throughout the state. “Over five dogs, you’re supposed to register as a kennel, and the license goes up to 10 dogs,” she says. “But for every 10 dogs you need a kennel license.” Another interesting variation to kennel licensing found in Maine is purpose-specific licensing. “If your dogs are for a purpose other than just breeding, the state is in the process of defining those kennels,” Vanderwood explains. For example, she says, “mushers” are under a municipal kennel definition. Kennel licenses vary, but generally cost $42 per 10 dogs. But, Vanderwood adds, that’s likely to go up to $75 per 10 dogs by next year. “Maine has been one of the states targeted by some animal rights organizations, and they’re looking for funding,” says Vanderwood. By targeting those kennels that are licensed, these animal rights organizations are hoping for some of the extra funding, Vanderwood explains. According to Vanderwood, only 40 percent of dogs in Maine are licensed. Maine is no stranger to the racing scene, with many different races within a six-hour drive from the White Mountains. “Between Northeastern Quebec and New York, I could go to 20 different [sprint] races a season within a six hour drive,” says Vanderwood. “Within Maine itself, we have six or seven races on schedule within three hours of each other.” Jackman is the furthest race from Vanderwood at a three and a half hour drive. And for mid-distance racing, there’s always the Can-Am Crown International, which is about a seven or eight hour drive to the Northernmost tip of Maine in Fort Kent.Dugan says, “Maine is awesome for distance races, which is our focus. The first and closest race to us of the season is the Eagle Lake 100 right in Greenville,” she explains. “The second is the 100 Mile Wilderness, and the third is the Can-Am 250, which is five and a half to six hours away. Maine is the best state in New England for distance races,” says Dugan.Maine offers some nice incentives when it comes to the cost of living. It isn’t hard to find a decent job in Portland or Augusta and drive only an hour or so for training, says Vanderwood. “You can make a decent living, and housing is relatively inexpensive in Western Maine,” she says. An average three bedroom home on 15 acres would cost about $150,000, according to Vanderwood. And the cost of high-performance dog food is on par with the average for the lower 48 at $36 to $38 a bag. Ironically, as found in many of the best places to mush, the places with the best trails in Maine are places where it’s harder to find employment. “It’s a great place to run dogs in our area,” says Dugan of Greenville. “The challenge is to try to figure out how to pay for it. It’s difficult to make a living in our neck of the woods because we’re very rural and there’s not enough industry.”In general, Maine is a haven for mushers and winter sports enthusiasts. “The best things about Maine for mushers are decent snow and trail conditions and the ability to work in the area where you live and train,” says Vanderwood. Drawbacks? If you live in the interior wilderness areas that are great for mushing, steady work is harder to come by and the areas are quite remote. Perhaps this is why Stephen King made this state a favorite locale for many of his stories. But this is why Mushing magazine names Maine one of the best places to mush in the east.New HampshireA year before the famous serum run in Alaska, mushing was blossoming far from the Great North. On a 1,300 acre farm in Tamworth, N.H. a man named Arthur Walden and his main stud and leader, Chinook, were making mushing history. In the words of Martha and Bob Heckman of New Hampshire, “It’s where [mushing] started, and it started in new Hampshire.” Just looking at the New England Sled Dog Club’s Web site, one can see there’s a lot to be proud of in this region. Bob Heckman says there are excellent training opportunities about 30 miles from his house in Arbor, N. H. “Our training areas are not typical of northern New Hampshire,” says Heckman. “People up north have more variety. We’re restricted.” He says they train in the Waterworks area, which is multi-use. There are no motorized carts or rigs allowed on the trails, and lots of others utilizing the trails. “We’re getting into areas that are more multi-use, used by horses, bicycles, pet dogs,” says Heckman. Because of the populated, multi-use areas used by mushers, the New Hampshire Mushers Association began promoting educational information about sharing the trails. These brochures are disseminated to snowmobilers, other mushers and generally anyone who mushers might encounter along their training routes. Martha Heckman says, “Sharing the trails here has been a big part of what Bob’s been doing.” She says they count small victories, like recently getting the word “musher” on trail markers. “Education is the most important thing that we can do,” continues Heckman. “We try to maintain a profile by advocating joining local snow machine clubs, going into schools, and putting out pamphlets for education trail-sharers. Education and communication are key.” The Heckmans say they’re usually well-received when meeting other users on the trails. “People pull over, watch the dogs go by, and take out their cameras.” The Heckmans still maintain a kennel license for 25 dogs, even though they currently only have seven. Kennel license regulations vary on a town-by-town basis, and Heckman says “I don’t think it’s a big deal at the moment.” The Heckmans say they get runnable snow typically from mid to late December through the second week of March with some thawing in the middle, admitting that, like many parts of the country, snow conditions have deteriorated over the last few years. Keith Bryar, who lives in Montville, N.H., agrees. “We don’t seem to be getting those old fashioned winters anymore. It’s getting harder to train.” Bryar says the only place he can find runnable snow during early December is in Bartlett, about an hour and a half away from him in the mountains. “It’s the only place we can find snow this time of year,” he adds. “It’s a good spot – a valley in the mountains with a four mile climb up and four mile climb down.”New Hampshire has many rolling trails without a lot of elevation changes, and it’s typically flat, which is ideal for sprint training. Heckman says there are both sprint and distance teams that train in New Hampshire. In his area, there are “not a lot of great hills. You have to go three or four hours north to get hill training.” Much history is accredited to New Hampshire’s racing scene, for it was here that the first dog sled race in the area was spearheaded, sanctioned by the New England Sled Dog Club in 1924 by Arthur Walden and his famous Chinook. The Tamworth continues today with open and limited class sprint races. “We have a strong history and a strong mushing community in New Hampshire,” says Martha Heckman. “It is a community based on history and you can easily race in Canada, New York and in New Hampshire.” She says most of the New Hampshire races are only between a one and a half to three hour drive from where they live in Kingston. Bryar echoes this opinion: “New Hampshire is more musher friendly than other states, I think,” he says. “We’ve tried to get ourselves organized enough to be accepted by the other activities [like snowmobiles]. We’ve gotten some awareness from the National Forest putting trail signs up for us, which is really important.” And, he adds, “it’s a pretty state.” Mountains, good trails, a strong history and awareness from other trail users are reasons why New Hampshire is one of the best places to mush in the lower 48. New YorkIn the northeast corner of New York State, the broad rounded back of the Adirondack Mountains looms in the distance like a tired old bear curled up for a nap. Formerly known only as “Deer Hunting Country” by English settlers, the many lush forests, lakes and rivers, and 6.1 million acres of land spanning the Adirondacks were used by Algonquian and Mohawk native Americans for hunting and travel. The Adirondacks have been the scene of much history: the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Indeed, the Adirondacks were the setting of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757. But the old ranges and miles of trails have also seen many a sled runner. With their highest peak reaching only a modest 5,344 feet, the Adirondacks are a perfect mushing mecca. One such iconic figure who made the Adirondacks his home and training ground for 30 years is Harris Dunlap. Originally from Western New York, Dunlap says he and his family moved to the Adirondack region precisely because of the good conditions. “You can rely on snow in the Adirondacks,” says Dunlap. “Adirondack State Park is the largest state park in the union,” he continues. “People don’t think of New York State as having an area that large with relatively few residents in it.” He assures, “You can have dogs without encountering a lot of problems from neighbors.”Another iconic figure in mushing, Buster Samburgh, has made the Adirondack region his home for the last 50 years. He and his son John and grandson Taylor train their 38 pointer cross sled dogs just 10 miles from his kennel, 30 miles north of Lake Placid. When asked where this training area is, he laughs and says, “in no man’s land, out in the woods.” Formerly used by a timber company, the large, 175,000-acre plot of land was sold to the state of New York for recreational use recently. According to Samburgh, this area is “not too populated and not frequented by snowmobilers,” and is a perfect place for racking up miles without mishaps. And Samburgh agrees that there’s not a lot of hassle with keeping dogs in the area, saying kennels aren’t required to keep a kennel license; instead they have to license dogs individually. Dawn Brown concurs: “Kennel legislation varies widely, but there are not a lot of state regulations. It’s left to the individual townships.” Brown says some townships have barking ordinances, but there are no formal kennel inspections.Brown, who trains largely in the Tug Hill Plateau region of the Adirondacks started mushing in 1982. She currently has a 25-dog kennel. One interesting thing found in the eastern region regarding kennel licensing is the practice of assigning licenses based on breed. Brown says one “can only register a state kennel license if you have dogs from a list of recognized breeds from AKC or UKC etc.” She says if you’re dealing with racing hybrids, like her pointer crosses, for example, dogs must be licensed individually. Samburgh confirms this, stating, “A kennel license is supposed to be for purebred dogs.” He says there are no zoning regulations as far as the number of dogs, “which is good.” Instead, each dog is licensed individually at $7.50 per dog. Once a year, says Samburgh, “a person comes around to check us out, count dogs, visit with us, and ask us what we’ve got.” Snow is plentiful in the Adirondack region, with some areas boasting up to 240 inches per year. Dunlap says the bordering waters of Lake Champlain and Lake George and the many rivers, including the legendary Ticonderoga, create great lake effect snowfall. “There’s good snow in various parts of the park because there are bands of lake effect snow that influences snow in the mountains.” He admits, “The Tug Hill Plateau is a really good sled dog area with some of the heaviest snow in the United States.” Indeed, at the time of this interview, the area experienced a snowstorm of five to six inches. “We can have snow anytime from November clean through until spring,” says Dunlap. “The area is a rainforest; therefore, we get a lot of snow.” Where Sambaugh is, at 1,700 feet elevation, in Paul Smith, New York, there’s not the kind of snowfall seen in the Tug Hill region. “We get quite a lot of snow, but not like Tug Hill. They’ve got a pile of snow already this year,” he says. “If they get two feet in Tug Hill, we’ll get about five or six inches,” he continues. “We get the after effect.” Because of the elevation, Sambaugh adds, “we have the colder temperatures, which make for having good, hard-surfaced trails.” He says despite having warmer temperatures the last two years, “Once we get snow, we keep it pretty good. It doesn’t melt off once we get it. Brown agrees: originally from New Jersey, she says her family moved to the Adirondack region “for all the good things: lots of lake effect snow and lots of areas where keeping a dog kennel isn’t a hassle.” Brown reports excellent grooming conditions, but as a sprint racer, she admits the geography leaves a bit to be desired. “It’s tough to find flat training here. Hills are everywhere!”Looking at a map of the Adirondacks, the geography of the area is clearly full of rolling hills. Sambaugh says the hills are “not mountainous, but definitely hilly,” adding, “there are people who don’t like to train here because our trails are too hilly.” Dunlap admits driving to places near Lakes Placid and Saranac to achieve the sort of optimal flat training ground needed for speed but the drive is 100 miles from his home. But it was worth it, he says, “because it’s more flat there.”As far as racing, Dunlap says the closest race was the Laconia Sled Dog Derby in New Hampshire. And Rob Downey admits, “I do most of my racing in Alaska. I haven’t raced outside of Alaska in five years.” Brown echoes these sentiments. “[Racing is] difficult. There are only two sprint races in New York State: Tug Hill challenge and a new one through the New England Sled Dog Club called the Inlet race.” Brown admits sadly, “Those heydays [of driving around the circuit] are over. I travel a lot to Michigan and Canada.”Dunlap described the circuit, alive and well during the height of his mushing career. “I think there are more people racing dogs now, generally speaking, but there’s not the money or the circuit there was then,” recalls Dunlap. “I could race a whole circuit of races in Ely, Minnesota and Kalkaska or Grand Rapids, Michigan. There was a circuit with enough money that, if you ran in the top five, you could make a fairly good dent in your expenses in just prize money.”New York might leave much to be desired in the racing circuit, but it makes up for these shortcomings in the job arena. Downey says, “Jobs are plentiful because you’re 90 miles from New York City and 40 miles from Philadelphia.” Brown says the average three bedroom home in her area of New York would run about $150,000; the cost of kibble ranges from $30 to $50 per bag. Brown says there are perks to New York. “There’s reliable, lake effect snow in New York State,” says Brown. “Kennel regulations are not as stifling as say in Minnesota. And you can live not too far outside of an urban area and still make a decent living where you’re not going to have conflicts with neighbors.”Downey agrees: “The advantage to New York is there are a lot of areas with good snow and a lot of varied geographical conditions to train flat or run hills. And there are many areas that get lake effect snow.”And Dunlap sums it up best: “The weather is the one thing you can count on here. There is an oasis of snow in the Adirondacks.” The Eastern region is home to not only some of the most beautiful snowy trails but an elaborate and rich history and booming mushing culture. It is where many of the great names in mushing began. With great snow, a strong racing community and good training areas, it is a cornerstone for one of the best places to live and mush.Shannon holds a master of arts degree in English and creative writing, and previously taught writing at the University of Akron in Ohio. She was introduced to dog mushing in 1997 in Wyoming and has been hooked ever since. 

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