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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ANF is 'Best Kept Secret in Pennsylvania'

By SANDRA RHODES

When David Imschweiler talks about Allegheny National Forest, he gets all mushy. That’s because this dog musher has discovered the Forest to be the best place to train his sled dogs.

“It’s the best kept secret in Pennsylvania,” Imschweiler said.

Imschweiler, owner of an Erie Insurance agency by day, has a passion for the outdoors and the ANF. His first exposure to the ANF was when he raced in the Lobdell Mid-Distance Sled Dog Race during Warren County’s Winterfest.

“I am in love with the (Allegheny National Forest),” Imschweiler said. “It is so beautiful and majestic ... this is a gem out here.”

The New Tripoli man is not alone.

Al Tarr has been coming to the ANF since 1969 when his father built a camp in Marshburg. The family had been coming to the area for hunting and fishing. Eventually, the Gibsonia man got involved in sled dog racing. He would bring his kids to Westline when sled dog races were held there.

Eventually, he spoke with Guy Waldman, formerly of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and Jeanette Hunkins of Bradford. After some guidance from both of them, he was ready to race the dogs he got from his wife and daughter who worked at a pet shop. That was 23 years ago and Tarr is still coming here to race train his dogs.

Tarr, who works in excavating, said this is a perfect place to train his dogs.

“There’s a lot of snow for one thing,” he said. “And it’s kind of primitive ... there’s a different feeling. There’s open land up here.”

This became more important to Tarr as the places he trained around his home were developed and “turned into malls.”

Tarr’s camp, however, provides the perfect location. He did not have to load his dogs and travel to trail. He could step out of his camp, get the dogs ready and take off. And while many were not happy with the closing with the snowmobile trail near the New York state line, it boded well for Tarr.

“That was convenient this year,” he said.

Otherwise, Tarr trained during the week to avoid heavier snowmobile traffic.

Imschweiler stayed at the Whispering Winds Campground while training his dogs a few weeks ago for the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race in Fort Kent, Maine. He found that Whispering Winds, located on Route 6 in Sheffield, is the perfect location to stay while training his crew.
“They have been accommodating for the dogs. It’s so unbelievable,” he said of owners Wayne and Ann Holloway.

Imschweiler has been into sled dog racing for a dozen years, back when he bought his first dog, a giant Alaskan malamute. He has been helping out at the Yukon Quest – a race he said was “the toughest sled dog race in the world.”

Imschweiler, who has about 20 dogs, owns Born to Run kennels. He travels with between 10 and 14 dogs.

“They are born to run,” Imschweiler said about his dogs. “You can’t push a rope.”

Both Imschweiler and his dogs liked the close proximity of Whispering Winds to the Trailhead at Forest Road 259.

“There are a lot of persistent climbs. The trails were nice and wide. Not a narrow trail” which allowed for both the dogs and snowmobiles to share the trails.

“I can’t believe the trails.”

His handler, Lori Stauffer, can also meet him at various points along the trail to bring snacks, water and food for the dogs so he does not have to them the supplies with him.

Imschweiler is so enamored with the Forest; he marveled at all the activities available.

“Snowshoeing, backpacking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, hunting … you have so much. Just enjoy nature.”

Of course, Imschweiler is partial to the time he spends in the Forest with his dogs.

“It’s a really good way to spend the day with your best friend,” Imschweiler said.

Pictured, Al Tarr of Gibsonia runs his team in the Mid-Distance Race, part of the Jim Lobdell Memorial Sled Dog Races at Chapman State Park.
Photo by Walt Atwood



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