FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Dog Mushers Association will close its Mushers Hall this winter to save money, removing a popular venue for meetings, receptions and mushing events in Fairbanks.
The 2,600-square-foot log structure on Farmers Loop north of the city was built with state money. It has hosted hundreds of meetings, weddings and other events, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
The building has lost money for years, but the association has paid bills with pull tab revenue, association President Mike McCowan said. That source of money, however, has fallen by 80 percent, and the association board of directors voted last month to close the hall from Oct. 1 to March 1.
“That building has never really paid for itself for at least 25 years,” McCowan said. “As time went on, it became a bigger, more costly albatross.”
Randy Zarnke, meeting coordinator for the Alaska Trappers Association, said his group has used the hall during winter months for 30 years.
“Wow, that’s really a blow for the trappers,” he said when told the news. “Our first meeting is scheduled for Oct. 1, so I don’t know what we’ll do.”
The Mushers Association, which oversees sprint dog racing in the area, faces other financial issues.
The club has only about 20 active members. The association is struggling to pay the second half of its property tax, due Nov. 1, and to make an insurance payment at the end of October.
The club owes almost $12,000 to a contractor who groomed trails last year, and there’s no money for trail grooming this season. The club may turn to volunteers to groom trails.
“Trying to maintain 30 miles of dog trail is going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort on the part of volunteers,” McCowan said. “If people don’t volunteer and the trail isn’t groomed, what kind of trail are we going to have? For a high-speed sprint trail, you can’t put it in with a couple of snowmachines and a tire the week before.”
The association will meet next week to discuss the upcoming race season and the future of the association. The Mushers Hall will not be open to mushers or spectators during the race season. Water lines will be drained and the heat turned off.
“We can’t afford to pay for a nice, heated environment to use the restroom during races,” McCowan said.