RANGELEY — The annual Snodeo snowmobile festival will go on as planned, despite the presumed deaths of three sledders who apparently rode into open water on Rangeley Lake on Dec. 30.
Members of Rangeley Lakes Snowmobile Club met with representatives from the Maine Warden Service and town officials Wednesday and decided to go ahead with the festival, Club President Steve Dudley said.
Recovery efforts for the missing snowmobilers has remained on hold as the Maine Warden Service monitors ice conditions, Cpl. John MacDonald said.
"It's extremely unfortunate," Snodeo Chairwoman Sandi Dumont said Thursday. "Our hearts go out to the families, but we can't stop. Things have to go on.. Many plan vacations around the Snodeo."
The three-day festival will run Jan. 24 through 26. Organizers have added a "blessing of the sleds" and safety awareness education.
Sponsored for the past 24 years by the club, it was conceived "to provide a community event and a business opportunity in the least busy time of the winter," club Co-chairwoman Mac Dudley said. "It is now a snowmobile event that is widely recognized as the leading winter snowmobile festival in Maine."
Club members want to support the families of the lost snowmobilers and will probably do something when the time is right, Dudley said, adding that the tragedy has affected everyone in the community.
At the same time, the Snodeo is an economic boost to the town, she said.
"Snowmobiling remains the principal business driver for Rangeley's winter economy," she said. "Rangeley is a destination snowmobile resort anchoring the riding in Western Maine and between the key snowmobiling areas in northern New Hampshire."
A festival that draws between 3,000 and 6,000 people, the numbers are expected to rise this year because the Snodeo weekend coincides with this year's Snowmobile Reciprocity Weekend.
Anyone with a sled registered in Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont can ride in all three states over the three days, Jan. 25, 26 and 27, according to the club website.
Riders from New Hampshire and Vermont can travel by snowmobile to the Snodeo, Dumont said. It's about 40 miles to the New Hampshire border by snowmobile trail.
This year the club is trying to bring back the carnival-type atmosphere and make it even more family-oriented, Dumont said.
Family canoe sleigh rides will be offered along with a family marshmallow roast on Saturday. A snowmobile will tow the canoe at 5 mph, Dudley said. There also will be a new treasure scramble for children.
A schedule of events and more information is available on the club's website at www.rangeleysnowmobile.com.