Even the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is bowing to the need to keep mushers and race fans safe in the midst of a global pandemic.
The Iditarod Trail Committee confirmed on Tuesday, Jan. 5, that the restart and finish of Iditarod 2021 will take place at Deshka Landing, a popular Matanuska Valley boat launching site in Willow, 7.5 road miles from the community recreation center where the restart has taken place for several years.
The change of venue was needed because the Willow Area Community Center is undergoing construction projects on facilities regularly utilized during the Iditarod restart.
Due to space limits at Deshka Landing only race essential personnel and participants will be allowed in the secured area. Race fans are being told to watch the restart and the finish online at iditarod.com and via the Iditarod’s partner broadcast media outlet, Anchorage television station KTUU.
Beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 7, 54 rostered dog teams will depart from Deshka Landing. They will travel the Iditarod Gold Trail Loop to the mining ghost town of Flat before looping back to the traditional Iditarod southern route. Dog teams will travel through the Alaska range, traverse the Happy River steps and the notorious Dalzell Gorge twice on this approximate 860-mile trail.
In the wake of the 2020 competition, Iditarod race organizers designed a comprehensive COVID-19 mitigation plan that includes testing protocols, mandatory face masks, social distancing and reduced staff to cover only crucial positions. The complete plan is on the Iditarod Trail website.
Competing mushers for 2021 include eight of the top 10 finishers from Iditarod 2020, as well as past Iditarod champions Martin Buser, Peter Kaiser, Dallas Seavey and Joar Leifseth Ulsom.
The ceremonial start of the Iditarod always begins on the first Saturday of March, followed by the actual race beginning the following day.
The Junior Iditarod, where a lot of Iditarod mushers got their start, begins on the last Saturday of March in the Matanuska Valley. This year’s Junior Iditarod, a two-day event, is set to begin on Saturday, Feb. 27, at Knik Lake, off of Knik Goose Bay Road outside of Wasilla, with over a dozen young mushers on the roster, including Ellen Redington, of Knik, a great granddaughter of the late Joe Redington Sr., founder of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.