So mush fun
Opportunity for sled dog adventure near DL may be on borrowed time.
SNELLMAN — Dogs in harnesses created a chorus of whimpers and barks as they tugged on a sled that was anchored into the hard-packed snow near the Smoky Hills State Forest north of Snellman.
Customers at Eddy Streeper’s Fun Sled Dog Rides in Osage get comfortable in a toboggan driven by the retired international sprint sled dog racer. When Streeper lifts the anchor and gives the mush command, the dogs fall silent. Suddenly, birds can be heard as clearly as the sled sliding along the trail.
After several years of operation, the unique business in the backyard of Detroit Lakes is hovering on the edge of closing.
“I’ll decide this spring if this is the last year or not,” Streeper said.
More people have booked rides in recent years, and Streeper has noticed a growing trend in riders crossing off a sled dog ride from their bucket list. However, businesses that require the cooperation of Mother Nature often leave owners flush or bust. He explained, if there is enough snow for a properly packed trail, frigid temperatures become the wild card.
“I’d go out, but people cancel,” he said, adding that some reschedule, but other customers end up on the lost revenue side of the ledger. “I had a few rides scheduled before Christmas, but it was too cold. So, the season started the day after Christmas.”
While there are some visitors from the lakes area and Red River Valley, many guests are from other states and countries.
Greg Smith and his wife flew into Fargo, N.D. from Clarksville, Tenn. with two friends. Smith explained they are on a journey to visit every state. Before touching down in the Peace Garden State, they looked for fun activities and came across the “highly rated” sled dog rides only a short, scenic drive from the airport.
Three from Smith’s group hopped into a toboggan that had a team of nine dogs driven by Streeper. Smith wanted the experience of driving his own team, so he stepped on a 60-pound sled pulled by three dogs. Streeper’s team took off down the trail first, and soon after, Smith followed.
“Staying on was the most impressive part of the ride for me,” Smith said with a smile. “It was a lot of fun. I’d seen it on TV before and spent a lot of days dreaming about doing it.”
Cindy, Smith's wife, added, while the Minnesota winter was cold, the ride was “fun” and worth the drive. The group also sang the praise of their host and his deep knowledge of the sport. Streeper spent many years racing professionally and won international championship titles year after year.
When his guests parted for their next Minnesota wintertime adventure, Streeper said he enjoys sharing his love for the sport with people.
“The activity has become a lot more known in the last 10 years because of movies,” he said. “And, the ride-giving thing is taking off — not in our region, thankfully for me, but in regions all over.”
Streeper said the sport comes with many expenses, from putting in a trail (and the gas and equipment maintenance) to the dogs.
“Normally, I had 75 to 100 dogs the last 35 years,” Streeper said, adding during those days he was racing and/or breeding dogs for racing, as well as providing rides when the race schedule allowed.
Streeper no longer breeds race dogs and retired from racing, so his pack decreased to 28 this year. Now, he gives the athletes who are past their prime a home and the ability to continue participating in the sport they love, albeit at a more leisurely pace.
“I used to break out in hives if I went 16 mph, or slower,” Streeper said. “Now I break out in hives if I go 16 mph because it feels like I'm flying.”
He said he enjoys the smaller pack, as it means less work.
“And less is more fun,” he said.
Even though he has fewer dogs, there has not been a change in his policy for giving rides to everyone.
“It's for all ages, you don’t need any experience and I have no weight restrictions,” he said.
Streeper is hoping the adjustments in pack size keep his business in the black, and the weather cooperates so that he can continue offering people the chance to experience sled dog rides.
“To feel the power of the dogs and hear their excitement, really grasps one soul, you know what I mean?” he said. “I never tire of it.”
Reservations can be made at his website, www.funsleddogrides.com, or by calling 218-573-3993.