RANGELEY — A snowmobile safety vigil geared toward helping to spread awareness and prevent further tragedy will be a focus of Snodeo activities scheduled for Thursday through Saturday.
The Torchlight Snowmobile Safety Vigil, set for 5 p.m. Friday in the town park, also provides an opportunity for people to begin to heal from the recent loss of four snowmobilers on Rangeley Lake, according to vigil organizer Jean Stewart.
The vigil will start with a moment of silence, followed by a blessing of the lake, a safety presentation by a Maine Warden Service official and comments by Snodeo Chairman Aimee Danforth and Town Manager Tim Kane.
A human-bridge blessing of the snowmobiles, in which everyone and every snowmobile will be connected by touch, will follow, according to Stewart.
“It’s a true community event,” she said.
Residents and local businesses are preparing for the usual packed crowd for Snodeo, an annual snowmobile festival that typically draws people from around the state and beyond.
The hotels are nearly filled with people planning to attend the festival.
Terry White, an administrator at Town and Lake Motel & Cottages, said all rooms are booked, with most claimed since last year.
“If you put your name down, … you might get a room in 10 years for the Snodeo,” she said.
The weekend events include children’s activities, ice sculpture contests, canoe sled rides, fireworks and, of course, snowmobiling.
Stewart said Friday’s safety vigil is free and open to the public. Decals touting snowmobile safety will be handed out to riders. Swatches of blue material designed to show support for the event will be available to nonriders.
Glow sticks will be given to participants to hold during the event.
Stewart said she had hoped to organize similar safety vigils statewide, but time did not allow for that; however, she encourages other communities to follow suit. Every year people are injured or die in snowmobile accidents, she said, and educating — and reminding — people about safety is critical.
Stewart said individuals and businesses have been generous in donating time or money so the vigil could be held.
“If we have good luck with it, next year we would like to do it again,” she said.
Event organizers were criticized publicly last week by people close to one of three missing snowmobilers who are thought to have drowned in the lake.
Missing snowmobiler Glen Henderson’s son and a family friend both said on Facebook they think the town should not hold the event if the three snowmobilers’ bodies have not been recovered from the lake.
However, relatives of missing snowmobiler Kenneth Henderson, 40, of China, said they think Henderson, an avid snowmobiler, would have supported the Snodeo.
They said they think the festival is a wonderful tradition for a community that has been supporting the lost snowmobilers’ grieving families and friends.
Judy Morton, executive director of the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce, said critics of the event were misinformed and did not reflect the majority of opinions of the relatives.
She said being accused of insensitivity was unexpected after the community opened its doors in support of the grieving families.
“It was hard to be as criticized as we were,” she said.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252