MUSHING IN MARYLAND

Really. Maryland—as in, south of the Mason-Dixon Line. There’s tons of fun dogsledding here at our educational tour business, Husky Power Dogsledding. As I tell thousands of surprised dogsledding guests every year—sled dogs don’t care what they’re pulling or where. But for us, it’s all about “location, location, location!” We’re in the Alleghany Mountains in the far western part of the state, yet still only a 3-hour drive or less from the big cities of DC, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Add to that the terrific micro-climate here along with the fantastic resort-like recreational opportunities around us in the Deep Creek Lake area—and you’ve got a winning situation equaling thousands of dogsledding guests per year.My husband Mike and I opened Husky Power five years ago after he retired from 32 years of service as a Marine Corps officer. That Marine Colonel used to think he was a bit of a big shot then, but he really is a “somebody big-shot” now—he has been promoted to CEO of HPD. That would be: Chief Excretment Officer of Husky Power Dogsledding. His fame was proven one day when two gals walked down the driveway to ask for his autograph. Because we’re so unique here, we’ve gotten an incredible amount of press, including local glossy magazine covers. The gals were holding one of those panting for Mike’s signature. Now just think—we don’t even race. We’re not a King or Mackey kennel– but I have to live with his ego nonetheless. A couple of examples of “free publicity” about how our unique tours run include two news segments and an AARP-made film that were all shown on national TV networks. They can be seen on YouTube by searching for “Husky Power Dogsledding.” Like many other kennels, our website has a page with bios of all our dogs: HuskyPowerDogsledding.com. Unlike other businesses, I’ve dedicated a page on our site to sleddog poetry written by a past tour visitor as well.Over the years we had taken many dogsledding tour excursions with other kennels wherever we were stationed—and flew often to our past duty station in Alaska. Hence, the big “What should we do after retirement?” was a cinch… do what we love. AND, share it with others while trying to subsidize the kennel cost with rides. Never in our wildest dreams did we expect our small business to so quickly blossom into a profit-making enterprise (with barely any paid advertising) that turns away as many people as it hosts. In fact, if we didn’t want to stay small and mush all the guests ourselves, we could triple in size/capability and still have room to grow. It must be the location, location… and of course, the awesome sport itself. Our business philosophy always has been to teach and share the glory of mushing with guests—thus giving back to the sport. Never would we push people through on rides with no educational element—even if it meant operating at a loss. Since day one, everyone who comes to Husky Power, whether it be a gaggle of Girl Scouts who enjoy 10-minute rides or a family who enjoys our half-hour ride or a couple that sign up for our “learn to mush” program and actually drive a team, everyone receives two hours or more of in-depth education. All guests learn about the many facets of dogsledding: history, racing, training, dryland mushing, the importance of being able to STOP, etc. After an hour of listening while watching the dog yard antics, always good for instigating many inspired questions, we inspect all the equipment—learning how ganglines and sled brakes work and such. We spend time visiting each dog and learning about northern breeds, etc. Then comes the actual mushing experience of ten minutes to two hours, when it is cool enough. Our running season spans from mid-September to early May, five days/week. Weekend tours are always fully booked by the end of August, with the rest of the running season full by the end of October. Summer days are filled with our presentations and kennel tours only. It is always such a joy, running or not, to share our sport with enthusiastic paying guests.The first year that we offered tours found us figuring out what to do and how to do it. After all, we had never actually been to a talk or presentation about dogsledding before. To learn more skills we both previously apprenticed at two large kennels, but lots of book-learning still had to be done. The fourth year of business found us hosts to over 3,000 people—never in groups of over 25. Since 2006 we have awarded over 1,100 Girl Scout merit badges, and twice enlarged our kennel of only nine dogs. Now we have (only) 20 happy, healthy mostly Siberian spoiled brats.Our unique micro-climate gets “lake effect” weather from the Great Lakes even this far south. We get over 120” of snow per year, with a summer average high of 75 to a low in the 50’s or even 40’s. Folks that visit from the humid east coast cities are always amazed at our lack of humidity, and that we personally do not have an air conditioner—in Maryland! We have beautiful mountainous terrain with lots of local-built trails including five state parks nearby. A full ski resort for more winter fun is only 3 miles away next to our lake and white-water rivers for summer fun, all adding to the draw of outdoor-oriented tourists. Still, there’s always those lack-of-good-snow days. So our Dyke-built Touri “dogsled-on-wheels” gets lots of use. The guests love it, as do we, for it requires a 10-12 dog team. Watching such a large team, either from the front while others ride or from the Touri seat is such a rare sight for our visitors to behold. After amazed exclamations at the dog’s enthusiasm, we always hear such comments as: “And just think, we didn’t even have to go to Alaska to see this!” They’ve often seen other animals here on our trails as well: deer, turkeys and lots of Maryland black bears. Two guests even once witnessed a wild, loose Jack Russell Terrorist, who ran around and around the dog yard fence trying to get in to boss the sleddogs!Indeed, there is no need to head further north, for just next to our home kennels is an 800 acre wilderness plot full of existing trails that is owned by our county. This is exactly why we bought this particular home and built the kennel where it is—so we could run tours from home allowing visitors to see how the dogs live. It was easy to get a county contract to use the land, not-so-easy to find business insurance. After all, no insurance agencies licensed in Maryland ever insured a dogsledding business before! Our realtor sure loved us because she never had to take us to look at a home. We looked only at nearby trails—hundreds it seems. Any type of home would do if the trails were right. So, we ended up buying the first home she actually brought us into, with great trails next door!Lugging dogs/equipment to other trails is not our idea of fun, although we’ve done it quite a bit. For example, during our second year in business we gave tours (every other weekend) at a nearby posh Pennsylvania resort, Nemacolin. The travel became old for us, so we offered to train their staff and helped them buy their own dogs. Now they run their own tours and even started a local race. They’ve since hosted a third annual dogsled race, a wonderful event for both the community and local recreational mushers. We’re often asked why we would essentially “help the competition” start a business. The answer is easy, what is good for the sport is good for us. And, there’s plenty of interest to go around. In fact, we’ve assisted dogsled tour companies from Vermont to Oregon with their new-business operational questions, including a self-described ‘micro-kennel’ of four dogs in nearby Baltimore. Again, what’s good for the sport is…I’ve been told that we’re good for our community as well, providing over 100 free presentations and gift certificates for kennel visits to local charities, schools and church fundraisers. Just last year 34 families with critically and terminally ill children enjoyed free programs with us though our participation in the national Believe in Tomorrow foundation. In addition, several national associations have asked for Husky Power presentations. I recently spoke to a room of 500 participants at the annual conference of the NCABAALS (National Capital Area Branch of the American Association for Animal Laboratory Science—whew!) Did I mention our offers to the national Wounded Warrior Project?It is incredulous to me sometimes how much fun we have and how close we’ve become with some of our guests. What a great way to make new friends—for our personalities sure come out to play during four hours of talking and mushing. Since we’ve always insisted on having fun while doing this, our guests do too, often lingering far after their tour is over. My personal motto used to be “Since we don’t make a profit, I am paying to do this—and if I’m paying to do this for you I’m definitely going to have FUN.” So far four different couples have become such dear friends that we often visit each other and have traveled together. Sharing a love of mushing can lead to sharing many other things. We always tell them to be careful because a one-Sibe owner who visited us now has six. The sport is addicting.So addicting I cannot stay away. Everything I do is with or about the dogs. For example, to relax and enjoy a break from the dogsledding business, I am a participating member of two Maryland arts councils. I sell my artwork and have had two private gallery shows of my mixed-media portraits. What kind of portraits? Why dogs of course. What else? Watercolor/photography animal portraiture has become part of Husky Power—either your pet or mine. It never ceases to amaze me how many visitors fall in love with our dogs and will buy a portrait of one of MY dogs when they have their own dog at home! And, so, who ARE these people that find us and want to experience dogsledding, ride or no ride? Our youngest rider was a one-year old on his Daddy’s lap while our oldest was an animal-loving lady of 94. A young man proposed to his gal during a dogsled tour—all set up ahead of time with the ring attached to lead dog’s collar for her to find. A couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary out on the trail. Once a guy simply just stayed and handled for us for a week. Several times folks on their sixth visit or so here have critiqued my presentation! (They bring new guests visiting them at their lake house.) However, most guests are everyday folks who plan for a day of something new and leave with exceptional education and intense enthusiasm for a sport that is no longer foreign for them.Who would have ever thought mushing in Maryland would work—and be such fun for both people and dogs? And so good for the sport itself? I’ve got a trunk-full of thank you notes from ecstatic guests—most of whom say it is “Absolutely the best thing I have ever done in my whole life!” I’ve got a message-book full of people who want to book tours into 2015—any kind of tour. I’ve got new best-friends who love both us and our dogs. I’ve got incredibly happy dogs that get “loved-on” by many people almost every day. I’ve got community volunteers that live to come and help with the dogs. I’ve got weather made in resort-heaven with plenty of wilderness around. I’ve got a purpose in life that both my husband and I love, and we both even love doing the “work part” of our work. And last, but not even the best part, is that we are making a profit doing what we love. What could be better than Mushing in Maryland?

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