RANGELEY — Family and friends of three snowmobilers believed to have driven into open water on Rangeley Lake on Dec. 30 have called for a boycott of the annual Snodeo festival, saying it’s disrespectful for the event to be held before the snowmobilers’ bodies have been recovered.
Glen and Jackie Henderson, the son and wife of missing snowmobiler Glen Henderson, respectively, both posted Facebook messages early Friday asking people to boycott the event, angry that more hasn’t been done to recover Glen Henderson’s body.
Contacted by phone later in the day, Glen Henderson said he feels it's disrespectful to be on that part of the lake where his father and uncle, Kenneth Henderson, 40, of China and their friend John Spencer, 41, of Litchfield, remain. It's their loved ones’ resting place for now, he said.
The Maine Warden Service began searching the lake after getting a report early Dec. 31 that the men were missing, Maine Warden Service Cpl. John MacDonald said. As of Friday they had been unable to find the bodies due to weather and ice conditions, and all efforts to recover the bodies have been put on hold. Side scan sonar images on Jan. 3 indicated two — and possibly three — snowmobiles at the bottom of the lake where the three are believed to have gone in, MacDonald said, and the men are presumed dead.
The body of a fourth snowmobiler, Dawn Newell of Yarmouth, who also drove into open water on Rangeley Lake in a separate accident on Dec. 30, has been recovered.
Jackie Henderson expressed appreciation for the support the family has received from Rangeley residents and compassion for the business community that has seen losses due to the lake conditions and accident, and said she appreciates the efforts the Warden Service has made to recover the men's bodies.
"It's hard to watch them out there in 10-below weather," she said. "I tell people they can't understand how hard it is and how frustrated they are, too, without seeing it."
And, she said, the people of Rangeley “are really nice. They are the most kind. They fed us and gave us drink. It's a really hard situation. I feel badly for the businesses there."
Even so, Henderson is critical of the shared decision by the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce, the Warden Service and the Rangeley Lakes Snowmobile Club to hold Snodeo before the bodies have been recovered, echoing her son’s Facebook post on the Sun Journal page that the decision to hold the festival was disrespectful to her husband and his friends.
Glen Henderson — the son of missing snowmobiler Glen Henderson — had posted that he thought it was wrong to hold the festival on top of what he considered to be the men’s graves, posting: “I have a plea and ask of you NOT to attend this event. You may ask why?? Don't you think it's too cold or the ice is unsafe?? Well that is what they are saying about recovering Glen, Spence and Ken. Three amazing men that should and need to be brought home. Feels to me the recovery isn't as important as their event they are planning ... These men need to be brought home.”
And, he posted, “How would you feel if your loved ones were in the lake while others party away on it. If I have ever seem (sic) disrespect this is it!!”
"The family would like to see a little more effort to pull out the men before Snodeo," posted Melissa Morgan, a friend of the Hendersons. "It would not be an issue if the bodies were not still there."
Organizers of the 25th annual festival decided Wednesday to go ahead with the event Jan. 24-26. Snodeo was conceived to provide a community event and boost the local economy in the least busy time of the winter, Rangeley Lakes Snowmobile Club Co-Chairwoman Mac Dudley said.
"We want them to do whatever they can to resolve the issue before Snodeo," Morgan said. "With all the resources and technology ... it's hard to fathom why they are not pulled out."
Morgan said she understood Rangeley is known for the winter festival and snowmobiling, and people do come from all over.
But, she said, "It's not the town or the snowmobile club … The guys are still in the water. If it's unsafe to pull them out, why have a party on it?"
Trish Hall, a cousin of two of the missing snowmobilers, posted on Facebook on Friday that she couldn't understand how Snodeo could be held, because it's disrespectful to the families.
Others urged people not to attend until the bodies are recovered.
"No Snodeo in Rangeley until Glen, Spence and Ken are home," Becky Ellis posted.
But Rangeley businesswoman Donna Perry, posting that she understood the families must deal with their loss, defended the decision to move forward with the annual festival.
“Bad-mouthing people of Rangeley after all of the support offered to the families while attempts of recovery were being done, is only developing sour and hurt feelings toward those being negative now. I would hope that you people could understand that it is not out of disrespect that Snodeo will take place, just that life for all the world has to go on," she posted.
On Friday, a number of complaints had been posted on the Facebook page of the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce, the Sun Journal page and other pages, urging reconsideration of the decision to move forward with Snodeo.
Judy Morton, the chamber’s executive director, had no comment on the posts other than to note that most of the Snodeo events were held off the lake and that the local snowmobile club, not the chamber, was the event organizer.
The Warden Service, which indicated it would issue a press release on Snodeo, had not issued any statement by late Friday night.