GREENVILLE, Maine — With reports of a pair of all-terrain vehicles and a snowmobile trail groomer going through lake ice in northern and western Maine this past week, snowmobilers and ice fishermen are being warned to be cautious.
“I actually saw some open water today up in the Rockwood region,” Maine Game Warden Sgt. Bill Chandler said Friday. “The ice is very treacherous in a lot of places right now still.”
The 8 or so inches of ice on Long Pond near Jackman could not hold a trail groomer that broke through the ice on Tuesday, Chandler said.
“They worked on it and eventually were able to get it out” Thursday night, he said.
Messages left for the Sebasticook Valley Snowmobile Club’s president Mike Grass, about damages to the groomer that is owned by the pond’s camp association, were not returned. On Friday, the club posted on Facebook about muddy conditions on area trails.
“Wet holes and mud still huge problem but cold weather over the weekend should help tremendously,” the club’s message reads. “Ride safe, ride smart, and stay on the marked trail. Respect our landowners. Thanks.”
Thin ice is being blamed for three separate incidents in Aroostook County that resulted in two all-terrain vehicles and a tractor falling through lake ice in recent days.
Game Warden Gary Sibley said Friday that he did not personally respond to any of the incidents, but that he was aware of the reported accidents and warned that ice thickness on many lakes in northern Aroostook County is “very spotty.”
“It’s anywhere from 3 to 12 inches,” Sibley said.
Lakes in northern Maine had only just begun to freeze when the region received one snowstorm after another. This created a layer of snow that has insulated the ice, Sibley said, which hinders the freezing process.
According to Sinclair resident Gerry Beaulieu, an ATV broke through the ice on Long Lake just north of Sinclair on Thursday. Beaulieu said he was not aware of any injuries and it was his understanding the vehicle was still in the lake.
Another ATV, equipped with snow tracks, broke through the ice near the Long Lake Camping Area sometime last weekend and wound up submerged in about 17 feet of water, he said. No one was injured in that incident, according to Beaulieu.
He said the ice is only 6 to 7 inches in a lot places that he has checked on the lake, and only 2 or 3 inches in others.
“There’s also a lot of slush on top, too,” he said. “It’s not very safe right now.”
Sibley said he also was aware of but did not have any details about a recent accident on St. Froid Lake involving a tractor and snowblower falling through the ice.
Over in Jackman, there is nearly a foot of ice in spots, but certain areas are still slushy, according to Dave Jones, president of the Border Riders Sportsman’s Club.
“We have about 10 inches but you still have to be careful,” Jones said. “If you don’t know the trail, stay off it.”
He stressed that even experienced riders need to take extra precautions, especially in areas where lakes and ponds connect to streams and other moving water.
“The inlets and outlets are still slushy, so no matter how thick the ice is, it’s still dangerous,” Jones said.
The state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has posted ice thickness guidelines that say to stay off ice that is 2 inches thick or less. At 4 inches, ice fishing or other activities on foot are allowed, and 5 inches of ice can typically handle snowmobiles or ATVs, the website states.
“Remember that these thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice,” the DIF&W site states. “Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.”
Know the trail, be prepared with appropriate clothing, extra gas and a way to communicate and let others know where you are going, Chandler suggested. He also said that the best way to stay safe is to check before going out on the ice.
“And don’t get a false sense of security just because there is a snowmobile track in front of you,” the game warden said. “Definitely check as you go.”
Subzero temperatures are expected this weekend, Chandler said, and should “help button things up.”
Writer Don Eno of the St. John Valley Times contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the trail groomer was owned by Sebasticook Valley Snowmobile Club. The groomer is owned by the pond’s camp association.