Friday declared 2011 ice-out day

Published 1:45 pm Saturday, April 9, 2011

This photo, taken Wednesday afternoon near the Katherine Island Bridge, shows the chunks of ice blown up on the shoreline by the winds on Fountain Lake. By Thursday morning this reminder of ice had melted. -- Ed Shannon/Albert Lea Tribune

Friday, April 8, will be recorded as Fountain Lake’s ice-out date for 2011, according to Bill Malepsy, the city’s lake ice observer since 1969. This is the 42nd year he has performed this public service.

He said the last slivers of honeycombed ice melted away in Edgewater Bay in the portion next to State Highway 13 and across from Bayview-Freeborn Funeral Home and the Union Center around 7 p.m. Friday.

Last year’s ice-out date was recorded as March 31.

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The earliest ice-out date for Fountain Lake since 1912 is March 7, 2000. That year the last patches of melting ice were in both Dane and Edgewater Bays. The latest recorded ice-out date for this lake is still April 30, 1953.

This is the 99th year of the formal listing for ice-out dates for Albert Lea’s centerpiece lake.

The recording of these dates still ranks as the third oldest in the state with 10,000-plus lakes, 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.

Malepsy started observing and recording the ice-out dates for Fountain Lake in the spring of 1969. He’s continuing a local tradition started 99 years ago by John E. “Pop” Murtaugh who died on June 1 that year. Malepsy had earlier agreed to take over the local tradition of establishing and recording the yearly ice-out dates.

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.

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