The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

  • Snow.2
    FIRST SNOW—Heavy, wet flakes piled deep on tree branches—and windshields—as the area received its first significant snowfall of the season. “Usually it begins with a dusting or two,” said George Isobar, Morenci’s observer for the National Weather Service, “but this time it came with a vengeance.” By the end of the day Saturday, a little over four inches of snow was on the ground. Now comes the thaw with temperatures in the 40s and 50s for three days.
  • Front.sculpt
    SKEWERS, gumdrops, and marshmallows are all that’s needed to create interesting shapes and designs for Layla McDowell Saturday at Stair District Library’s “Sculptamania!” Open House. The program featuring design games and materials is one part of a larger project funded by a $7,500 Curiosity Creates grant from Disney and the American Library Association. Additional photos are on page 7.
    Morenci marching band members took to the field Friday night dressed for Halloween during the Bulldog’s first playoff game. Morenci fans had a bit of a scare until the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs scored 30 points to leave Lenawee Christian School behind. Whiteford visits Morenci this Friday for the district championship game. From the left is Clayton Borton, Morgan Merillat and James O’Brien.
    DNA PUZZLE—Mitchell Storrs and Wyatt Mohr tackle a puzzle representing the structure of DNA. There’s only one correct way for all the pieces to fit. It’s one of the new materials that can be used in both biology and chemistry classes, said teacher Loretta Cox.
  • Front.tar.wide
    A TRAFFIC control worker stands in the middle of Morenci’s Main Street Tuesday morning, waiting for the next flow of vehicles to be let through from the west. The dusty gravel surface was sealed with a layer of tar, leaving only the application of paint for new striping. The project was completed in conjunction with county road commission work west of Morenci.
  • Front.pull
    JUNIORS Jazmin Smith and Trevor Corkle struggle against a team from the sophomore class Friday during the annual tug of war at the Homecoming Games pep rally. Even the seniors struggled against the sophomores who won the competition. At the main course of the day, the Bulldog football team struggled against Whiteford in a homecoming loss.
    YOUNG soccer players surived a chilly morning Saturday in Morenci’s PTO league. From the left is Emma Cordts, Wayne Corser, Carter and Levi Seitz, Briella York and Drew Joughin. Two more weeks of soccer remain for this season.
  • Front.ropes
    BOWEN BAUMGARTNER of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge constructed by the Tecumseh Boy Scout troop Sunday at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The bridge was one of many challenges, displays and games set up for the annual Youth Jamboree by the Michigan DNR. Additional photos on are the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.homecoming Court
    One of four senior candidates will be crowned the fall homecoming queen during half-time of this week’s Morenci-Whiteford football game. In the back row (left to right) is exchange student Kinga Vidor (her escort will be Caylob Alcock), seniors Alli VanBrandt (escorted by Sam Cool), Larissa Elliott (escorted by Clayton Borton), Samantha Wright (escorted by JJ Elarton) and Justis McCowan (escorted by Austin Gilson), and exchange student Rebecca Rosenberger (escorted by Garrett Smith). Front row freshman court member Allie Kaiser (escorted by Anthony Thomas), sophomore Marlee Blaker (escorted by Nate Elarton) and junior Cheyenne Stone (escorted by Dominick Sell).
  • Front.park.lights
    GETTING READY—Jerad Gleckler pounds nails to secure a string of holiday lights on the side of the Wakefield Park concession stand while other members of the Volunteer Club and others hold them in place. The volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon to string lights at the park. The decorating project will continue this Sunday. Denise Walsh is in charge of the effort this year.
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In Alaska We Trailgate: Iditarod 2011.04.06

Written by David Green.

idit.mainBy MATT CLARK

In Alaska there are no professional sports teams and there is no college football. Therefore, Alaskans get their outdoor pre-game festivities not in parking lots, but alongside a 1,150 mile trail from Anchorage to Nome.

The end of February and the beginning of March is one of the most exciting times of year in Alaska, not because the spring break-up is around the corner, but because it is mushing season and the granddaddy race being the Iditarod.

For those unfamiliar with the event, the race’s original roots came from the 1925 diphtheria epidemic that took place in Nome. The Iditarod Trail had already been developed as a mail and supply route from Seward and Knik into the Alaskan interior. When the epidemic took place, serum had to be brought quickly, and dogs were the fastest mode of transportation. Teams of sled dogs raced from town to town passing the medicine from team to team until it reached Nome. After a mere five and half days and 674 miles, the medicine reached Nome behind the lead sled dog Balto.

The modern race usually takes somewhere between 10 to 17 days. During this trip riders and their team of 12 to 16 dogs cross some of the most beautiful terrain in the world, where they pass through mountain ranges, forests, frozen rivers, desolate tundra, and coastlines—in temperatures far below zero and winds that have the ability to cause complete loss of vision. As you can imagine, such a test brings out the adventure junkies from around the world.


The 2011 class of riders consisted of 62 teams from six countries: USA, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, UK (Scotland), and Jamaica (yes, I said Jamaica). The U.S. mushers in the 2011 field drew entries from Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Tennessee, and Michigan (Ed Stielstra of McMillian).

The front-runner was Fairbanks native and Iditarod legend Lance Mackey. Mackey is a 40-year-old competitor who won a record four straight Iditarods. Mackey comes from one of the premier mushing families in Alaska. He is the son and brother of former champions. Mackey’s son is also part of this year’s race. The prize was $50,400 on cash and a new truck.

That covers the riders; now for the fans.

The celebration begins in Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska (280,000). This celebration is called Fur Rondy and lasts two weeks. Snow is actually brought into the city and dumped in the main street for the events. The main events are the running with the reindeer (similar to Spain’s running with the bulls), the outhouse race (homemade outhouses are put onto skis then pulled by teams with one teammate sitting on the john), and the ceremonial Iditarod start.

Fur Rondy attracts people from all over the state. While attending the outhouse race and the running with the reindeer, my wife and I met groups from as far north as Kotzebue and as far south as Ketchikan. The majority of the people who attended the festivities drove from Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, and the Kenai Peninsula. However, with the majority of Alaskan cities and villages not being connected to the Alaskan road system, many people from western, northern and southern Alaska flew into Anchorage to experience these annual events.

The outhouse race was my favorite event. I had friends who helped make up three teams. The various teams decorated their homemade outhouses and many of the teams wore costumes. One of my friend’s team all wore capes, underwear over their clothes, and large, fake plastic butts.

My favorite team mockingly called themselves “Elect Joe Miller” and all of the team members wore suits and ties. Most of the events that lead up to the Iditarod are suppose to be fun filled competitions, not to be taken too seriously.

The ceremonial start brings thousands into Anchorage, packing the trail all the way to Eagle River. The riders are introduced downtown, where they take pose for photos and sign autographs, then begin the first part of their journey to Eagle River before the official start begins the next day in Willow.

People pack the trail the first two days of the race and trailgate while the mushers and their teams ride by. The first day on the trail resembles a dogsled parade. Mushers ride by waving, and giving high fives while throwing candy and dog booties to the crowd. The trailgate that my wife and I attended took place 3.5 miles into the trail and was one of the biggest groups out. The group was made up of a mix of born-and-bred Alaskans and lower 48 implants such as my wife and I.

We had to park our car at a small park in Anchorage, then walk two miles to our spot on the trail. We had upwards of 40 people packing the trail cheering, holding up signs for our favorite riders and grilling an Alaskan staple—reindeer sausage.

Our trailgate coordinator has been setting up Iditarod trailgates for the past couple years and has helped our group gain quite the reputation. Mackey said that he looks forward to the ride by our group every year because of how loud and energetic we are and because he gets a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints handed to him as he races by. The Iditarod Trailgate is as fun and rowdy as any Morenci/Sand Creek, Central/Western, or Michigan/Notre Dame tailgate I have ever been a part of.

After the mushers make the short trip up to Eagle River, they get the remainder of the day to rest until the serious portion of the race begins.

This year proved to be one of the fastest trails in Iditarod history, with relatively good weather. However, there was a minor virus that was spreading throughout many of the dog teams making some of the riders leave dogs at the checkpoints. This tends to be a fairly normal part of the event. Dogs are treated at the checkpoints by the veterinarians on the trail and then given back to the riders at the end of the race.

I was able to track the race the entire way while getting to watch live feed from the checkpoints. At the checkpoints I was able to see crowds of fans cheering on the riders in all of the tiny villages along the trail.

An unexpected musher won this year’s race. John Baker, the 48-year-old Kotzebue native, was the first to arrive in Nome, winning with a time of eight days 18 hours, 46 minutes, 39 seconds, a new Iditarod record. He led the race by more than two hours for the final four days. Lance Mackey finished the race in 16th place (nine days 17 hours, 55 minutes, 34 seconds) and Michigander Ed Stielstra finished in 27th (10 days, 14 hours, 1 minute, 30 seconds).

The Iditarod helps outsiders get a tiny glimpse into the Alaskan way of life. Alaskans are unlike most people in the lower 48, they do not shy away from winter and hibernate in their homes from November to April. They get outside and take advantage of the fun that winter can bring. Alaskans spend their winters cross country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing through the mountain passes, ice fishing, snowmobiling, winter mountain biking, and mushing.

Alaskans look forward to Fur Rondy and the Iditarod all year, when they can take a few days out of their busy winter schedule to relax with friends on the mushing trail while eating reindeer sausage, drinking Alaskan beverages and cheering on their favorite mushers.

• Morenci graduate Matt Clark recently moved to Alaska and is teaching school there. He lives in Palmer, Alaska.

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