BRIDGTON — It was hard to hear over the howls of sled dogs lined up at the starting line of the Down East Mushers Bowl races at Five Fields Farm on Saturday.

Sobbing with excitement, the teams strained at their leads at the prospect of pulling their drivers and sleds along the 4½-mile course. By the time they crossed the finish line, the dogs were silent with exhaustion. Although their muzzles were lined with ice whiskers and their tails hung limply, the dogs were happily weary, said their owners.

“These dogs need to move,” said Stefani Meyer.

Meyer drove all night from her home in Garfield, New Jersey, to race with her dog, Filou, a 7½-year-old husky, in skijoring events during the two-day bowl. In skijoring, the dogs pull a person on skis rather than on a sled.

The races, sponsored by the Down East Sled Dog Club, attracted about 30 teams hoping to accumulate points to gain a standing in the International Sled Dog Racing Association and take home the $2,000 purse.

The South Bridgton Congregational Church serves soup, baked goods and drinks to the crowds who show up to watch the events, which include races involving one to six dogs pulling people on sleds or skis. Sunday’s events start at 10 a.m. The winner of the two-day event, based on how points are accumulated in each of the races, will be announced Sunday.

Meyer said even though she and Filou came in last in the single-dog skijoring event Saturday and she was operating on little sleep, she was glad she made the long drive from New Jersey to Maine.

“It was absolutely worth it,” Meyer said.

While dog sledding remains popular in Canada, interest has been waning in the United States, said Beth Olsen of Hebron, president of the sled dog club.

A decade ago the event drew 110 teams. Olsen said the soaring costs of keeping a team of sled dogs in competition has dampened enthusiasm for the sport. A sled dog eats a pound of meat a day and dog sleds cost thousands of dollars.

“People used to keep 20 to 50 dogs. Now it is more like two to 10 dogs,” said Olsen.

Olsen said it doesn’t help that young people are no longer entering the sport.

An exception is Lily Stewart, 17, of Ipswich, Massachusetts, who won the four-dog sled race in 15 minutes Saturday. Stewart’s team beat out nine competitors and ran the course twice as fast as its slowest competitor.

Stewart said she discovered the joys of mushing on her ninth birthday when she received a sled dog ride as a present. She said one reason mushing does not attract a lot of teenagers is because it is not offered at most schools.

Stewart said it takes a brave parent to allow a child to go off into the woods all alone behind a team of dogs. She said her mother was nervous at first.

“I think it is good for kids to be able to think and act on their own,” said Stewart, who hopes to wind up next year at a college in Maine close to where she can participate in dog sledding.

But there are enough die-hard mushers to keep the sport going despite the downsides, said Mary Ellen Cafiso of Otisfield, chief timer for Saturday’s races.

“People get into it and can’t get out of it,” said Cafiso.

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