MARQUETTE - On any given Saturday, there are probably less than 600 people in the Alger County town of Trenary.
Today, that population will soar to as many as 4,000 while the Trenary Outhouse Classic races take place.
The 19th edition of the Upper Peninsula winter classic event starts at 2 p.m. with races in both kids and adult categories.
Willow Pasanen, 7, left and Olivia Viau, 5, of Trenary push their outhouse entitled “Farm Girls” down the snow-packed trail during the 17th annual outhouse races in 2010. (Journal file photo)
Teams have until 1:30 p.m. to register for the competition in which, as described on the event's website, "homemade outhouses are made of wood, cardboard, plastic, tape, old foreign cars, grand piano crates, you name it. The outhouses are placed on skis and pushed by two 'racers'..."
Let Cindy Essenburg, chairwoman of the Outhouse board of directors, explain the day for anyone who hasn't been to the races any time in the first 18 years it has taken place.
"There are a lot of unique things to see," she said. "The ideas people come up with ... I don't even think like that. And people dress for the occasion in all kinds of crazy outfits. Nothing seems to affect them.
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From Marquette (approximately 33.1 miles)
1. Follow U.S. 41 south (31.8 mi)
2. Turn left at M-67 N (0.6 mi)
3. Turn left at County Road H-01/Eben-Trenary Road/E T Rd (69 ft)
From Munising (Approximately 28.2 miles)
1. Follow M-28 east
2. Turn right at M-94 W (15.5 mi)
3. Turn left at M-67 S/Rock River Rd (11.4 mi)
4. Turn right at Co Rd H-01/Eben-Trenary Rd/E T Rd
"For a little town like ours, to have 3,000 or 4,000 people come to watch teams push an outhouse down a track, well, that's really something."
The classic was founded by the late Toivo Aho, who one day was sitting in the Silver Dollar Bar and started to talk about a similar event he had witnessed in Washington state. He told his fellow Trenarians the idea would work as a great way to break up the long winter.
A committee was formed, the first race was put on with just three weeks planning and a winter favorite was created. Aho, for the remainder of his days, was the event's champion, even appearing on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
As it enters its 19th year, the race continues to win people's affections.
"We have people who come back every year from all over," Essenburg said. "Some people plan their vacations around it."
In addition to the races, the main street of Trenary is filled today with the four Fs, the website reports: fun, food, and family festivities. There will be vendors selling caps, headbands, T-shirts, sweatshirts, vests, flasks, pins, coffee mugs, greeting cards and can and bottle koozies (holders).
All items are available for purchase at the Trenary Outhouse Classic tent and all proceeds earned from donations, purchases and registrations go back to support the community of Trenary.
With a relative dearth of snow this Upper Peninsula winter, are race officials worried?
"We took a ride around to check things out and I think we will be all right. We may have to bring some snow in," Essenburg said. "It may be a lower track but there will be enough snow for people to push their outhouses."
This year marks the start of a new event for the Outhouse Classic as well.
"We're having a hat contest, the first time for that. After we do the trophies for the races, we will go to the tent and have the contest," Essenburg said.
Cash prizes will be awarded for the best fur hat and the funniest hat.
"It will be around 4 o'clock or so," she said. "The whole day is really something to see. Even if you've never been, I know you really will enjoy it."
Entry pins for spectators are $2 at the gate.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is email@example.com.