RUMFORD – Like several snowmobile clubs in Maine, the Rumford Polar Bears and Norway Trackers stress safety to members and other riders through signs along trails they maintain and through a Web site.

However, with two fatalities already in a season just getting going, Polar Bear treasurer Bob Stickney said Tuesday that snowmobile safety must be stressed more in newspapers to better reach the riding public.

“We have a Web site and on it, we basically caution people, you know, ‘ride right, ride safe,’ and watch out for water holes. That sort of thing,” Stickney said. His wife runs the club’s Web site.

Trackers President Richard Mowatt said that club also sent around a safety video last year and schedule trail-safety checks by Maine wardens.

Speed, riding on the wrong side of a trail on blind corners and alcohol all contribute to accidents.

“Ninety percent of the snowmobiles on the market today all go well over 100 mph and there’s no protection on them,” Mowatt said. “But, the majority of the time, when we’re out for a Sunday ride, the majority of the people ride right and safe.”

The Rumford club also stresses safe riding in its trail report. That and the Web site are “our way of communicating with the riders,” Stickney said.

Communicating with riders is also what Gov. John Baldacci and the Maine Warden Service did Tuesday via a news conference to try to prevent another year of multiple snowmobile fatalities.

After five snowmobile-related deaths last March in less than 72 hours, state officials held a safety conference similar to Tuesday’s and reprioritized wardens’ duties to increase trail presence and snowmobile-trail enforcement actions.

However, three more sledders died before the season ended, capping fatalities at 12. That was up six from the previous winter.

Like March and again on Tuesday, Baldacci and state fish and game Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin urged sledders to slow down, ride right and safe, wear helmets and don’t drink and drive. They also said wardens will be out in force on snowmobile trails to ensure safety.

Warden Sgt. Rick Mills of Andover said this means either individual wardens will routinely check an area for sledders or, groups of six to 10 wardens will ride a trail and conduct high-profile on-trail inspections of sleds and riders.

“On any given day, depending on the area, in some areas on a day like today, you’re going to check over 100 sleds, and the next time, the next guy might only check five or 10 sleds,” Mills said Tuesday evening.

“On a busy weekend, in the high snowmobile patrols like Rangeley, Stratton and the Kingfield area, and up to Andover in this country, it is not out of the question to check hundreds. Anywhere from 300 to 500 on a busy weekend,” Mills said.

As for Stickney, repeated safety reminders will also help.

“They’re out there riding these fast machines and they just need to be reminded all the time. It was in the paper today that these machines have just outpaced the (trail) system that’s been developed over the years. You need to use judgment and common sense,” Stickney said.

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