From my eyes……….

It began as a dream.  The dream of one man, Gus Knopnicki, to develop a marathon cross country ski race from Crawford County, to Antrim County, running through four counties in the Northwestern corner of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

During the summer of 1976 Gus approached the Mancelona Chamber with his ideas.  I was new in the area;  I attended the meeting to introduce myself as a new lawyer in Mancelona.  This was the year, you will recall, when cross country skiing grew in this country, following the stunning finishes of Billy Koch in the 1976 Winter Olympics. I had never been on cross country skis, but had been a small bore rifle competitor in high school and college and was very interested in the biathlon, one causing acceleration in heart rate and the other requiring a slow heart rate.

Two of the four proposed counties elected not to participate, so the trail was to proceed from Crawford to Antrim counties through acres of standing White Pine Trees.  Hence, the race name.

WPS CheckpointThe original race was 50 kilometers on a cold, windy day.  The temperature hovered around 0 degrees with a westerly wind of MPH blowing directly into the faces of the 90 entrants, 40 of whom finished the journey from Frederic to Mancelona.  Winning time: 4:49:20; last finishing time: 8:02:12.  Frost bite was prevalent.

The following year a 20 Kilometer race was added and entries more then doubled.

The February, 1981 race was the first to be held solely in Antrim County due to grooming, political and snowmobile conflicts.  Upon completion of the new Mancelona High School, in 1985, the start was again moved to its present location.

Also in 1985, the race began its relationship with Children’s Hospital of Michigan.  Five dollars of each entry, together with separate donations, have been given annually to support the work of the Ophthalmology Department.  As of the 2011 race donations have exceeded $91,000.00.  The dream:  $100,000.00 by the 2014 race.

Sensing a lack of an event for those that wish to enjoy the sport and the excitement of a race setting the 10 Kilometer race was begun in 1991.  It became an instant hit, drawing approximately 150 entrants annually.

The White Pine Stampede is one of the few POINT TO POINT left on the race calendar.  As part of “the dream” Gus insisted that the race be a remembrance of times when cross country skiing was a means of transportation.  It remains today and if I have any say will remain that way forever.

Traditionally each entrant is provided with a specially designed tee shirt as a reminder of their day on the trail.  Each year the race committee discusses and decides the color and design for the shirt always a highlight as 10 individuals, men and women discuss current fashion.

Gus KnopnickiEach finisher is given a medal as the cross the finish line.  The 40 Kilometer medals have been numbered since the first race, giving the finisher an idea of how many have crossed before them since 1977.  The first three finishers in each gender, age, and skiing style are provided with a plaque commemorating their accomplishment.  A tradition also begun with the first race.

Always popular with the competitors are the 250 volunteers from Mancelona and Bellaire who line the trail offering refreshments and encouragement.  Many of the volunteers have been helping for an excess of 25 years.

The race was, and is, an effort by two small villages to provide an opportunity for racers to test their skills and endurance against others with similar skills, while at the same time offering those who wish to enjoy Northern Michigan, at their own pace, a day of  outdoor fun.  

With luck the history will grow for years to come.  Come join us on the first Saturday of February.

Jack McKaig

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