DULUTH – A bandit made off with a few hundred bales of straw set aside to be used as bedding for the dogs running in the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.
On Wednesday, race organizers said in a Facebook post that about $2,000 worth of straw was stolen from a farm in Cook, Minn., about 30 miles north of Virginia, Minn., where it was being stored before the Jan. 27-30 race.
“We seriously can’t believe this,” the post said, adding that “an enormous amount of straw” is needed to keep the four-legged athletes warm and dry at checkpoints along the course, which is more than 300 miles long.
Beargrease spokeswoman Monica Hendrickson said the organization has for years gotten its straw from the same farmer, who doesn’t know when his barn was looted — though with a standard bale of straw weighing 45 pounds, it seems the thief was not a lazy one. Authorities have been contacted.
When race organizers were told of the burglary Wednesday, they were scrambling to figure out new logistics for the purchase, storage and delivery of straw.
It’s late in the season to purchase straw, and it was a wet year that wasn’t great for crops, Hendrickson said. So Beargrease took to social media seeking help.
By Thursday afternoon, the organization had received donations to cover the purchase of new straw for the race — and then some, Hendrickson said.
“We were blown away by how quickly the money started coming in and the amount of people who were looking for straw for us,” said Hendrickson, who also said the marathon had passed the $2,000 donation mark earlier Thursday and received offers from people offering to give or transport straw.
For transparency’s sake, the organization is reaching out to donors to see how or if they would like their gift to be used if organizers don’t need it for the purchase of more straw.
The contest, the largest sled dog race in the Lower 48, is a qualifier for Alaska’s famous Iditarod.
“It’s a testament, I think, to how much people enjoy the race and are excited for the race every year,” Hendrickson said.
“It’s a tradition in our community.”