20TH ANNIVERSARY GOLD RUSH TRAIL DOG SLED MAIL RUN

2012 marks the 20th annual running of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run, a milestone year for this unique event
 
[Editor's Note: The following information has been taken from the information card that is a part of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail envelope. The QC Sentinel is indebted to the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Association for providing this interesting overview of its famous event.]
 
The Northern BC Winter Games were held in Quesnel British Columbia in 1993, and the first Mail Run was organized that year to add something just a little different to the Games and to highlight the unique gold mining history of the Quesnel, Wells, Barkerville corridor. Trail clearing, through  waist-deep snow came right down to the wire, but the dog teams made it through during that first event.
 
Over the years, hundreds of sled dog teams have journeyed over what is now widely known as the Gold Rush Trail. The Mail Run represents the only place left in Canada and possibly in the world, where it is possible for regular mail to be cancelled and packaged by the post office, carried over at least part of its journey in a sled pulled by a dog team and then put into the regular mail system to be delivered to its destination anywhere in the world.
The event has evolved over the years, with the one constant being that the dog teams have always carried the mail.  In the early years, the Mail Run was also a race, a qualifier for the famous  lditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.  There was a continuous trail running for just under 250 miles, starting north of Quesnel and running east to Kruger Lake in the heart of the Cariboo Mountains, then back to the starting line at Umiti Pit.

These early races were adventures, with trail spotters  setting up camps along the route and spending nights camped in the snow. There were  years when the temperature dipped below minus 40 degrees Celsius and years when it rained. The route runs from west to east, with a continuous rise in elevation, and this has always guaranteed great snow conditions beyond Cottonwood, but usually for the whole route.   The fact that this event has been run year after year is a great testament to the incredible volunteers who have worked selflessly over the years to see this event happen, because they believe in it and want to celebrate "all that the Cariboo has to offer in the winter".

Eventually the decision was made to shift the focus of the Mail Run from a competitive to a  participation event.  Money prizes for winning were replaced with participation awards for taking part. Volunteers and dog mushers are all participants, each taking part in their own way. In addition to dog teams, participants have skied, skijored and snowshoed all or part of the route. Kick sleds have covered part of the route, runners have taken part and one participant even started off on his bicycle.  Volunteer snowmobilers ensure that there is a broken, packed and marked trail as well as offering a measure of safety in the event of an emergency.

Some special traditions have developed over the years.  Coveted  awards in the form of perpetual trophies are given out each year, the banquet and auction, the Barkerville Dash and the Mushers' Sports competition are an integral part of the three day Mail Run celebration. Today, participants and volunteers may choose to camp out at the checkpoints or to crash at the Cottonwood Community Hall or on the floor of the Troll Ski Resort.

The trail goes through the heart of Cariboo gold country taking participants through or past the sites of legendary Gold Rush communities like Stanley, Van Winkle, Richfield, Cottonwood and of course Barkerville. You may read about the history of the Cariboo Gold Rush on the Mail Run website at www.dogsledmailrun.ca. In 2012,  as part of the 20th Annual celebration, a race will once again be incorporated into the Mail Run and the prize will be pure Cariboo gold.

The Mail Run envelopes  each feature unique artwork and have become cherished collector's items. The artist for the 2012 envelope is Denise Unley of Hudsons Hope British Columbia and the scene depicts a smiling young musher making her way over the trail.  If you look closely you can see the Canada Post mail pouch poking out of her sled bag.  A full set of envelopes as well as information about the history of the delivery of  mail in the Cariboo region of British Columbia can be viewed on the Mail Run website.  Carrying the mail is an honour and the mushers take the task seriously.  The envelopes routinely end up in over 20 different countries and the stories received from grateful recipients are heartwarming.

And then there are the dogs, these incredible animals that are loved and respected by all of us.  Sled dogs have made life possible throughout Canada's north for hundreds and even thousands of years.  Today's sled dogs are carrying on this deeply engrained desire to  pull. Their amazing capacity for work combined with their loyalty and their wonderful individual personalities make them very, very special.

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