RANGELEY — The town and the people of Rangeley have come together in support of a Torchlight Snowmobile Safety Vigil planned for 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, in the town park.
“We’ve all come together strongly as a town,” Town Manager Timothy Kane said. “A town that grieves along with the families.”
He’ll speak during the vigil.
The event planned for the beginning of Snodeo weekend began in response to the recent loss of three snowmobilers, believed to have driven into open water on Rangeley Lake. The Warden Service has suspended the search for Glen Henderson, 43, of Sabattus; his cousin, Kenneth Henderson, 40, of China; and their friend John Spencer, 41, of Litchfield. They were reported missing early on Dec. 31 as wardens searched for Dawn Newell, 45, of Yarmouth, who went into the lake the night before while snowmobiling with her son on Rangeley Lake. Newell’s body was recovered Dec. 31.
“A lot don’t understand how hard it hit people in Rangeley, and how it has affected the people in our town,” Jean Stewart, vigil organizer said Tuesday. “The town is also broken. We know there’s a higher risk to run snowmobiles, one person lost is a tragedy, but four people in one day is overwhelming.”
Struggling to sleep nights after the accidents, Stewart, who doesn’t ride herself, came up with the idea.
“It’s incredible how many have stepped up to the plate to help,” she said.
“Our goal will be accomplished if we get even one person to stop and think before they go on a frozen body of water,” Stewart said.
The event begins with a blessing of the lake and a moment of silence in recognition of the four lives. A representative from the Maine Warden Service will provide a safety presentation, followed by comments from Aimee Danforth, Snodeo chairman, and Kane.
The event will close with a blessing of the snowmachines by the Rev. Jud Pealer of the Church of the Good Shepherd, she said. For the blessing, snowmachines will be parked in lines and people will place one hand on the pastor and the other hand on the person next to them. The last person in each row will place a hand on one of the snowmobiles. This will form a “human bridge” from the pastor to each snowmobile, she said.
Decals bearing the acronym ICE — Initiate Caution Everyday — will be given out for helmets and machines. Small patches of blue cloth representing water are being prepared for nonriders to show their support, along with glow sticks for everyone, she said.
Everything is free, and it’s open to anyone and everyone.
The week of the accident, Stewart took her idea to selectmen and volunteered to organize it. They showed their support with a unanimous vote and an offer to front funding of materials for the event. Stewart plans to fundraise afterward to pay it back, although one sponsor is footing 60 percent of the cost. The same sponsor is also cutting cloth swatches and purchasing glow sticks.
Volunteers came forward to park sleds and do other jobs, she explained.
The Public Works Department is pitching in to remove more snow in the park, making a spot for the vigil, Kane said.
The police and fire departments are also helping. The Parks and Recreation Department is helping set up a speaker system.
Stewart returned to Rangeley last summer after 20 years.
“This is what I remembered about this town,” she said. “Its heart is huge. People are so willing to help. They pull together. The people are so close.”
Efforts were made to make the vigil statewide, but time was tight. This could happen anywhere, she said of an effort to bring attention to ice safety. Through the Maine Snowmobile Association, she has contacted other communities and will work with them to start vigils in other towns, she said.
“If we can make one positive thing out of a negative, the negative is not totally in vain,” she said.