Volunteers critical to CopperDog

CALUMET – As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, CopperDog, Inc., has the organizational backing to put on a sled dog race of national significance, but the CopperDog 150 and CopperDog 40 could never succeed without hundreds of volunteers.

Online volunteer registration – for experienced helpers and ‘newbies’ alike – opened Monday, and hundreds of shifts and positions are available at copperdog150.com.

“CopperDog’s most valuable resource are the people who pile out in droves to volunteer race weekend,” Executive/Race Director Todd Brassard said. “We want to make it as easy as possible for people to find volunteer opportunities and opt-in very easily.”

As in all other areas of the March 1-3 race as it enters its fourth year, several improvements have been made to online volunteer sign-up, including more positions and the ability to register a couple, group or team. Organizers only ask that volunteers bring all the people they sign up, since they are relied on as the lifeblood of the race.

“Volunteering for CopperDog is a big social experience, of course,” Brassard said. “This year we are building some of those social elements into our volunteer system. For example, volunteers can leave little notes when they sign up that other volunteers can read.”

Kids age 14 and older are considered able-bodied volunteers, but there must be at least one adult on each shift. Kids 13 and younger are welcome to help out, but they won’t count toward the minimum number of volunteers.

Organizers hope to get greater participation from college students since this is the first year the race does not coincide with Michigan Technological University’s spring break.

“CopperDog volunteers encompass the entire community,” CopperDog board member Lesley DuTemple said. “Nearly every working profession in the area is represented in our volunteer list: school teachers, college professors, students, grocery store workers, even a Boy Scout troop. We also have volunteers who drive up here from Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin – just for that weekend, just to be a volunteer for CopperDog.

“Our volunteers are the best on the racing circuit. They staff crossings in the middle of the night and in subzero temperatures, and they do so cheerfully, literally cheering on every musher that goes past them,” she added. “Mushers continuously comment on the level of volunteer commitment in the CopperDog and the community enthusiasm that accompanies the event.”

While most volunteer positions simply require availability and a smiling face, others involve special training, and arrangements can be made with Volunteer Coordinator Brian Donnelly by emailing volunteer@copperdog150.com. Donnelly is also branch manager for River Valley Bank in Calumet, which has been the CopperDog’s Lead Dog sponsor since the event began.

“River Valley has been a supporter of the CopperDog since the inaugural race, and I think that means more than just writing a check. I have a history of volunteerism, and I thought I could help fill the big hole left when the previous volunteer coordinator stepped down,” Donnelly said. “Like anything else, the biggest challenge is trying to make everyone happy. We want our volunteers to have a great time, but it’s also important that we stage a safe race for everyone involved, both four-legged and two-legged. There is a certain balancing act involved with making that happen.”

Coordinating hundreds of volunteers isn’t easy, but CopperDog organizers have set up several events – general and advanced training sessions – to get everybody on the same page.

The first such event takes place today, the first of two lead volunteer training sessions, which are targeted at 25-35 passionate volunteers who are willing to commit eight to 12 hours to training for race weekend. The event takes place from 10 a.m. to noon today at the Jutila Center for Global Design and Business in Hancock.

The second such event is slated for the same time on Feb. 16. Attendees are encouraged to RSPV to volunteer@copperdog150.com, though people interested may show up today or email about helping if unable to attend today.

The next big volunteer event, the annual volunteer drive, is slated for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 2 at River Valley Bank on U.S. 41 in Calumet. It provides volunteers with a venue to not only sign up, but learn more about the race, meet mushers, pet dogs and enjoy treats served through Aspirus Keweenaw, the official volunteer sponsor of the CopperDog.

The final major volunteer event, the official CopperDog volunteer training session, will take place from noon to 2 p.m., Feb. 24 in the parking lot behind the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium and Keweenaw. It will involve 45 minutes of indoor training, a demonstration and discussion, as well as 45 minutes of outdoor hands-on handling of real dog teams, which will involve crossing instructions and general safety guidance.

“CopperDog is such a unique event, and down the road I think it will become another enduring tradition that sets the Copper Country apart from other areas,” Donnelly said. “It’s fun to be a part of something like that.”

Check back to The Daily Mining Gazette every Saturday leading up to the race for more exclusive CopperDog 150 coverage.