By Jonathan Phelps
---- — HAMILTON — While there has been a lack of snow so far this winter, organizers hope that the annual sled dog races will return to town next month after being canceled last year.
The races are scheduled for Jan. 19 and 20 at Appleton Farms. This year’s course will begin and end on Highland Street at Lamson Field.
“It is a much better staging area for the start and finish,” said Robert Henrici, co-chairman of the Friends of New England Sled Dog Club Races. “There are better vantage points for both the competitors and spectators.”
What if there is no snow again?
“That is something I can’t worry about,” Henrici said. “I can only worry about what I can control. I can’t control the weather.”
The most important thing is the ground freezing to allow for parking and use of the course, Henrici said.
“I am pleased it’s raining this week,” Henrici said, noting the wet conditions help the ground freeze solid. “The long range forecast shows much colder and seasonable weather coming after Christmas. We can pray for snow after that.”
The annual races, which started in 2010, have proven to be very popular in the past, usually drawing thousands of spectators and competitors — called mushers — from all over. In 2011, there were 82 teams and an estimated crowd of about 10,000.
Last year, the races were canceled because of the lack of snow.
“Our mission is to bring sled dog races to the North Shore,” Henrici said. “We want to show the public the beauty of the open space and the land we care so much about.”
Henrici makes a trip to Alaska each year to volunteer at the famed Iditarod dog race, which covers more than 1,150 miles of terrain. Unlike the Iditarod, mushers here will race 4-, 6-, 8- and 11-mile courses during a number of events.
“It is a sprint race,” Henrici, with the dogs reaching speeds of upward of 25 mph. The largest teams will include 14 dogs.
“They will see a show beyond their belief,” he said of those who turn out to see the races. “It will be a spectacular show.”
The races are the only sled dog events in Massachusetts sanctioned by the International Sled Dog Racing Association.
Most of the racing will be through Hamilton, on properties owned by Pingree School, Essex County Greenbelt, Appleton Farms and other private owners.
The New England Sled Dog Club Races will donate funds to the Trustees of Reservations, MSPCA at Nevins Farm in Methuen, Essex County Trail Association and Essex Greenbelt.
The races will run 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. It will cost $20 per carload to park on the property. For more information go to newenglandsleddograces.com.