December 12, 2018
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Musher connects pen pals in County schools

FORT KENT – Mail delivery by dog sled, a service used decades ago in Alaska and the Yukon territories, is expected today to be faster than the U.S. Postal Service.

Musher Michael Ellis of Rumney, N.H., on Saturday delivered mail from Fort Kent to Portage Lake in eight hours and 56 minutes, about 36 hours faster than the postal service.

While in Portage, Ellis picked up mail that he expected to deliver in Fort Kent early today.

The round trip by dog sled will take about the same time as snail mail would one way.

A letter mailed on Saturday in Fort Kent wouldn’t arrive in Ashland until Monday.

But speed was not the reason for the dog mail effort.

The project was the idea of Alan Dow, according to teacher Lynne Cyr of Fort Kent. He mentioned the idea of pen pal mail by sled dog to Cyr, who teaches first grade at the Madawaska Elementary School. She had her 11 pupils write letters to first-graders in Ashland.

In return, Bonnie McNally, Ashland Central School’s first-grade teacher, had her pupils write letters to those in Madawaska. The children 6 and 7 years old.

“It’s an educational connection,” Cyr said Saturday after handing her letters over to Ellis. “I did a study section with my students about mail and how it was delivered by dog sled in Alaska.

“I think it will take less time for the mail to go through by dog sled than regular mail,” Cyr said.

For Ellis, it was a surprise.

“I just found out about this project this morning,” Ellis said as he prepared his 12-dog team for the Irving Woodlands 250-mile race. “She must think I’m going to finish this race.

“Those good ol’ mail drivers [in Alaska] must have been serious mushers,” he said, thinking of the past. “That’s how they used to deliver mail, and that’s the idea today.”

“The kids were quite excited about this,” McNally said at the Portage Lake checkpoint of the Can-Am. “They had no idea what dog sledding is all about.

“They are not sure what this entails,” she said. “I will be trying to make them understand.”

McNally said she hopes to continue the pen pal project with the Madawaska pupils by using the U.S. Postal Service.

“It won’t be as fast,” she said.

Ellis has been racing at Fort Kent on and off since 1996. He’s been racing the 250-mile race the past four years. He has finished in the money, among the top 12, the past two years.

“I learn something about mushing each year I compete,” he said.


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