Celebrate spring: Freshwater throws a party

Sometime soon, perhaps by the time you read this, a narrow ring of open water separating Lake Minnetonka’s warming shoreline from the ice that has covered the lake since December will widen and penetrate farther into the lake.

The ice that was 2 to 3 feet thick in January will thin, melting from the bottom and evaporating from the top.

Celebrate spring

“You get a ring of open water at first,” said naturalist Jim Gilbert. “It just comes out from the shoreline because the land warms up quicker than the ice and snow. Then the ice gets dark, and then it gets light. And then all it takes is a good strong wind, and it’s out.”

A week or more before that, when the lake is still a mix of open water and deteriorating ice, loons migrating from the Gulf of Mexico probably will stop on Lake Minnetonka for a few days while they wait for ice to clear on their nesting lakes farther north.

Both events – the ice going out on the lake, and the visits by the loons – are signs confirming that spring has arrived in Minnesota.

To celebrate both events, the Freshwater Society is hosting an Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser this year. The party, on Thursday, April 21, at Bayview Events Center in Excelsior, will be hosted by Paul Huttner, Minnesota Public Radio’s meteorologist and the author of the MPR Updraft Blog.

The party, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., will feature hors d’hoeurves, drinks, a raffle and silent auction. By attending the party, joining in the raffle and bidding in the auction you will support the Freshwater Society’s important work: Educating and inspiring people to value, conserve and protect water resources.

You also will get to take part in some interesting and informative presentations:

  • A performance by the Bearded Men Improv theater troupe.
  • A loon-calling contest.
  • Presentations on loons and the history of ice-outs on Lake Minnetonka by Jim Gilbert, Freshwater founder Dick Gray and staff from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Loon Project and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

Tickets for the Ice Out/Loon In party are $30 per person, or $50 for two, in advance, and $35 and $60 at the door. Advance tickets are available on-line at www.freshwater.org and at Freshwater offices in Excelsior and Anoka. For information, you also can call Diane Lynch at 952-314-8134.

The cause for the party – the breakup of ice on Lake Minnetonka – has been speculated about, celebrated as a sure sign of spring when it happens and recorded by a string of observers since the mid-1800s.

The Freshwater Society declares ice out according to a formula Freshwater founder Dick Gray set: The ice is out when it is possible to travel by small boat from any one shore to another shore through any passage on the lake.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol uses another formula: When it is possible to go by boat from the patrol’s headquarters in Spring Park through the Narrows and around Big Island without having to significantly alter course because of ice. The patrol’s dates generally, but not always, coincide with the Freshwater dates.

Gray’s collection of historical ice-out observations for Lake Minnetonka goes back to 1855, except that records for about 20 years in the 1860s through the 1880s are missing.

Over that period, the earliest ice-out date was March 11 in 1878, the latest was May 8 in 1856 and the median date was April 14. Last year, the date was April 2. In 2009, it was April 13.

What causes an early or late ice-out? Well, of course, it is days and nights with prolonged stretches of above-freezing temperatures.

Then there is snow cover, which cuts both ways in terms of its impact, according to Gilbert. Heavy snow, like we have had this winter, reflects much of the sun’s energy. But early-season snow, like we got this winter, insulates the ice and keeps it from getting as thick as it otherwise would. On balance, Gilbert said, heavy snow probably delays ice-out.

After the ice starts to break up, it usually is a strong wind that speeds the final dispersal of Lake Minnetonka’s ice.

Typically Minnesota lakes have a rolling series of ice-outs, from south to north. The average ice-out date on Lake Pepin is April 9, according to Gilbert. At Saganaga on the Canada border, the average is May 3. And at Greenwood Lake, near Grand Marais, the average is May 7.

The arrival of migrating loons follows the same south to north progression. According to records since 1947 that the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union compiles from observations by amateur birders, the first loon spotting in Hennepin usually occurs in the last week of March or the first week in April.

A handful of loon pairs nest at Twin Cities Lakes most years. The ones that visit Lake Minnetonka usually arrive when the ice is about half out, and typically stay just a few days while they wait for ice to clear on their breeding lakes farther north, Gilbert said.

But…whenever the loons arrive, whenever the ice goes out, the Ice Out/Loon In party will be April 21. Be there.



Want to go boating, but you don’t have a boat? Or maybe you have a fishing boat and some time you would like to take friends out on a pontoon?

No problem. If you win the raffle at the Ice Out/Loon In party, you win a Pier Two trial membership that will provide use of a boat – runabouts, fishing boats or pontoons – five times over the course of the season. The membership, valued at $1,495, was donated by Luke Kujawa of Your Boat Club.

Or if you are a reader, not a boater, another raffle prize is a Nook, Barnes and Noble’s e-book reader that gives you access to 2 million titles.

The party also will have a silent auction featuring items such as a week’s vacation at Glen Eden Resort near Steamboat Springs, Col., donated by Freshwater Board member David Knoblauch; a 25-foot boat slip, donated by Tonka Bay Marina; a kayak trip at Split Rock Lighthouse, donated by the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center; and a history cruise on Lake Minnetonka, donated by Bayview Events Center.

A full list of silent auction items is available at www.freshwater.org.