Ice is out on Fountain Lake as of today

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 31 will be recorded as Fountain Lake’s ice-out date for 2010, according to Bill Malepsy, the city’s lake ice observer since 1969. This is the 41st year he has performed this public service.

He said the last slivers of honeycombed ice melted away about 7:30 a.m. today in the small bay near Cedar Avenue. Strong winds and some warmer weather resulted in the last remnants of ice stubbornly ending up in this part of the lake to the west of the Oakwood Peninsula and Wedge Street.

Last year’s ice-out date was recorded as April 3.

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This is the 98th year of the formal listing for ice-out dates for Albert Lea’s centerpiece lake.

The recording of these dates is still the third oldest in the state, according to Peter Boulay of the State Climatology Office at the University of Minnesota. He said the longest-known recording of ice-out dates in the state started in 1867 for Lake Osakis near Alexandria but hasn’t been consistent. The recording of ice-out dates for Lake Minnetonka west of the Twin Cities started in 1870 and has been consistent since 1887.

The earliest ice-out date for Fountain Lake since 1912 is March 7, 2000. The latest recorded ice-out date for this lake is April 30, 1953.

Malepsy has been observing and recording the ice-out dates for Fountain Lake since the spring of 1969. He’s continuing a local tradition started 98 years ago by John E. “Pop” Murtaugh.

Murtaugh was the owner and operator of the Casino, a lakeside dance hall and rowboat rental service at the north end of Newton Avenue in 1912. The melting of the ice cover on Fountain Lake was a prime business concern for Murtaugh. Thus, in the spring of 1912 he started to record the date the lake would be entirely free of ice. He reportedly would paddle a canoe all the way around the lake’s shoreline, including the bays, to check on the status of the hopefully ice-free surface.

Now the ice status is checked by driving around the lake and checking on places like Dane Bay, Edgewater Bay and the Bancroft Channel. Also, Malepsy has several friends who help him with watching the status of the lake’s ice-out status.

“Pop” Murtaugh died in 1969. His friend Malepsy then took over the local tradition of establishing and recording the yearly ice-out dates.

Malepsy and his son, Mark, operate Bill & Mark’s Barber Shop on East Clark Street in Albert Lea.