OAKLAND — Todd Jackson and a couple of his buddies have teamed up to place old Christmas trees in the ice near the Oakland boat landing on Messalonskee Lake in hopes of preventing an accident like the one Jan. 7 that took the life of a Massachusetts man.

Fifteen trees have been sunk in the ice just short of where it becomes open water by the outlet of the lake to warn people of the thin ice and open water.

Jackson, 44, of Oakland, who now lives in Smithfield; Eric Holt, 47, also of Oakland, who now lives in Belgrade; and John Holt, 65, who now lives in Fairfield were ice fishing Saturday morning near the boat landing, all the while keeping an eye on the thin ridge of the pond where ice turns to frigid water.

“We’re hoping that they see the trees and they’re going to slow down and take a look around a little bit,” Jackson said. “Lift their shields up, look around, live, you know? You’ve got to check as you go.

“If you don’t know, don’t go.”

Richard Dumont, 52, of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, was riding a Polaris 550 snowmobile toward the outlet of the lake, also known as Snow Pond, when the snowmobile plunged into the frigid water that Saturday afternoon. Fire department crews reached Dumont with an ice rescue sled and pulled him from the water, according to the release.

Emergency responders with Delta Ambulance tried to revive Dumont. He was taken to Inland Hospital in Waterville, where he was pronounced dead.

“We weren’t here to see it, but I guess he came right on down through and drove right into the open water,” Jackson said. “Too bad. It was still daylight. Early afternoon.”

There are 12-14 inches of ice toward the middle of the lake, but it thins near shore, the men said. They said the water temperature is about 30 degrees.

The men drilled holes in the ice with their ice augers, placed the butts of the old Christmas trees in the holes and kicked slush in until they froze solid.

“We had to do something and that’s pretty much all the fish and game would let us do is the trees,” Jackson said. “They’re biodegradable and if anything they’ll float down to the fish screen and they can be picked up there. And they’re recycling.”

Hazard signs are also being erected in the area to warn people of the open water. One is going in at the Oakland boat landing, one in at the carry-in site on Route 27 and another at the Sidney boat landing, the men said.

Friends of Messalonskee, a nonprofit association that works to preserve Messalonskee Lake, has offered to donate money for signs, according to a published report. Ed Pearl, a former vice president of the association, said the association is awaiting a call from the Maine Warden Service to find out if the idea would pose any problems or break any regulations.

Pearl said it’s not common to see people snowmobiling near the area of the boat launch, which is the north bay of the lake.

“Typically they stay away from it, if they know the lake,” he said earlier this month. “Most of us who are on the lake don’t trust it.”

While the weather might get cold, Pearl said the north bay area freezes poorly because of the dams. The stream beneath the ice is constantly moving at 3 mph, he said, which can erode the ice.

“It’s always open right here and it’s always hazardous,” Eric Holt said pointing to the line of Christmas trees the men recycled from the town dump.

General guidelines on ice safety call for waiting until a body of water has at least 4 inches of ice to walk on it and 6 to 8 inches to snowmobile or drive an all-terrain vehicle on it.

Jackson said the Christmas trees are visible and hard to get by, even by someone who is unfamiliar with the lake.

“If we can save one guy, we’ll feel pretty good,” he said. “I’d like to see something more permanent go up this summer.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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