Finding Minnesota: Wood Tick Racing In Cuyuna

CUYUNA, Minn. (WCCO) — Our long, harsh winter did nothing to control the tick population in Minnesota.

In fact, the heavy snow insulated the ticks on all those days the temperatures dipped below zero. So they’re back and out for blood again, hanging out in tall grasses and woods around the state.

“They’re just like a mosquito or anything else,” Lou Dirkes, fire chief in the small town of Cuyuna, said. “They are a pest.”

But as nasty as they are, Cuyuna has found one redeeming quality in the pests.

“They’re good for racing,” said Dirkes.

For the 35th straight year, the town will host the annual Wood Tick Races on June 14 — an event that draws hundreds of “tick jockeys.”

Al Gruenhagen of the nearby town of Iron Hub hasn’t missed a year.

“It’s a good time,” he said. “You know, you’ve got to do something.”

The race tracks go up one Saturday a year on tables outside a bar in Cuyuna, appropriately named the Woodtick Inn.

Jane Holmvig and her husband, Brad, just re-opened the bar in January after it was closed for three years.

“We had a lot of fun memories associated with the Woodtick,” Holmvig said. “My husband and I both grew up in this town.”

For a $5 entry fee, which goes into a pool for cash prizes, anyone can become a tick jockey.

“You can buy a wood tick for a dollar, or you can bring your own wood tick,” Holmvig said. “We only race wood ticks, just the plain old non-disease carrying wood tick.”

The real winner is the town’s volunteer fire department — probably the only department in the world that gets proceeds from parasites.

“It’s not weird,” Dirkes said. “It’s been going on for 35 years. We can make up to $5,000.”

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