The Mat-Su Valley will be the home of the restart and finish of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race this year.
The 2021 Iditarod will start and finish at Deshka Landing, according to an announcement made by the Iditarod Trail Committee Tuesday afternoon.
“The decision was mutually made by the Iditarod and the Willow Area Community Organization due to concern for COVID-19 risk mitigation at the Willow Area Community Center, which is also undergoing construction projects on facilities regularly utilized by the Iditarod,” Iditarod officials said in a press release.
Deshka Landing, located approximately 7.5 road miles from Willow Lake, serves as a year-round access point to the Lower Susitna Drainage consisting of the Susitna River, Deshka River, Yentna River, Alexander Creek and all tributaries. This change for the 2021 race, along with the Iditarod Golden Trail Loop race route, further allows race organizers to safely execute and continue to protect the communities along the trail, the mushers, volunteers and Iditarod personnel.
At this point, there will be very limited spectator opportunities outside of the secure area where only race essential personnel and participants will be allowed, according to the ITC.
On Sunday, March 7, at 2 p.m., the 54 currently rostered teams will depart Deshka Landing and travel the Iditarod Gold Trail Loop out to the mining ghost town of Flat before looping back to the traditional Iditarod southern route in a course that is approximately 860 miles. On this route, the teams will travel through the Alaska Range, traverse the Happy River Steps and navigate the notorious Dalzell Gorge, twice.
Since the completion of the successful 2020 race, Iditarod race organizers have constructed a comprehensive COVID-19 mitigation plan. The plan is built on checkpoint “bubbles,” robust testing protocols, mandatory face masks, social distancing and reducing staff to only crucial positions.
For the 49th running of the race in 2021, eight of the top 10 finishers from the 2020 race are returning, as well as four past Iditarod champions.
Additional details regarding the Deshka Landing restart and finish will be available at a later date on Iditarod.com.