A commitment to snowmobile safety can save lives

Earlier this week I saw a newspaper report that caught my eye. Ice anglers on Messalonskee Lake in Oakland had “planted” 15 discarded Christmas trees on the lake, marking the ice as unsafe in hopes of making sure that snowmobilers don’t drive into the open water closer to shore.

That’s what happened on Jan. 7, when a Massachusetts sledder died on the lake. And that incident prompted the ice anglers into action.

Earlier today, I was talking with a BDN editor about the Messalonskee Lake trees. He was intrigued — as I was — and he asked me to share a few thoughts.

Here goes.

The Messalonskee are a knee-jerk reaction to an unfathomable tragedy. The crash that claimed the life of Richard Dumont took place during daytime hours. Locals say the ice in that part of the lake is always thin, if there’s any ice at all.

Will those trees prevent another snowmobiler from driving any closer to shore, where the outlet stream keeps the ice thin?


Unfortunately, that’s just one lake out of thousands here in Maine. And when it comes down to it, snowmobilers, ice skaters and anglers — all recreationists — are largely on our own whenever we step onto a frozen lake, pond or river.

On many lakes I’ve fished, it’s a common practice to snip a few tree boughs and scatter them around the hole left behind when an ice shack has been removed. Those serve as markers for sledders, and can make a big difference.

But it’s incumbent upon all of us, as recreational users, to realize that hazards exist. It’s vital that we research the lakes and ponds we want to visit, and to recognize that not all hazards will be marked by signs,or boughs.

Or, for that matter, discarded Christmas trees.

What the Messalonskee tree crew has done is admirable. These ice anglers just want to make a difference, and make their local lake a little bit safer.

But remember: In the end, our safety is up to us. All hazards won’t be adequately marked. Sometimes, conditions can change from perfectly safe to downright dangerous in a matter of seconds.

What can you do?

So, it’s sledding season again, and you’re eager to avoid becoming a statistic. What can you do to make sure you’re as safe as possible when you’re out there?

Meyers has been spreading that safety message for years, and he said the concepts are pretty basic.

“The message is always, ‘Don’t ride by yourself. Keep to the right. Don’t drink and ride,’” Meyers said. “It’s just simple, simple stuff.”

But Meyers can put it even more simply if he has to.

“Behave yourself,” he said. “It’s one thing to have a good time, but you’re on somebody else’s land … respect their property like it’s your own and look out for your fellow sledders.”

But what else can you do?

Making sure that ice conditions on any lakes or ponds is safe should clearly be a priority, but danger can crop up deep in the woods as well.

Encounter engine trouble or run out of gas while you’re in your car on the highway, and you can coast to a stop and easily find help. Have the same problem when you’re on a snowmobile 50 miles from civilization … in a blizzard … and you’d better have a backup plan.

Meyers said he’s begun carrying a SPOT locator, which can pinpoint his location and summon help in the case of an emergency.

“It’s a small GPS that has two buttons,” Meyers explained. “One says, ‘I’m OK’ and the other one says ‘SOS.’ If you hit the ‘I’m OK’ button it will send an email to predetermined addresses, and it shows a link to a map that shows right where you are.”

Meyers admitted that when he’s out riding on weekdays, he likes to send those “I’m OK” messages to friends he knows are busy at work, just to make them envious.

And the other button can be a life-saver: Push “SOS” and the device sends a message to the SPOT headquarters, and folks there will summon help and direct rescuers to the coordinates that were sent.

John Holyoke can be reached at jholyoke@bangordailynews.com or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke




John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.