AUBURN — Water officials declared Lake Auburn ice out Monday morning, but fishermen and boaters wanting to use the boat launch will still have to wait until April 1.

Mary Jane Dillingham, water quality manager for the Auburn Water District and the Lewiston Water Division,  said this is the earliest date ever for Lake Auburn to be mostly clear of ice by a week. The previous record of March 30 was set in 1981

“There are a few little floating pieces here and there,” Dillingham said. “But it’s no longer a situation where the cove is covered in ice. It’s mostly clear now.”

Dillingham said it’s mostly a concern for fishermen. Lake Auburn’s boat launch remains closed until after April 1 and the lake ice has melted enough to let boats navigate unimpeded from one end to the other.

“It’s a concern if the ice shifts and blocks off the boat launch,” she said. “If that happens, we can wind up with people stranded out on the lake. But typically, the ice isn’t gone until well after April 1, so the date is not a concern.”

The water district has been keeping track of the date the lake opens for boating since 1874. Ice didn’t clear from the lake until May 14 that year, the record for the latest ice out.

Dillingham said the early ice out date is also a signal that gulls can be expected sooner than normal. The water districts may have to start their gull management program, to scare the birds away from the lake, earlier this year. Officials monitor the birds to keep their feces from contaminating the lake, which is Lewiston-Auburn’s water supply.

“It was a mild winter, so we will be out monitoring for the gulls,” she said. “They really start to show up as soon as the water is free of ice, so we don’t know when to expect them this year.”

Canoes and kayaks may use the open water if they have access but paddlers may be stopped and checked by game wardens to make sure they are not fishing before April 1, Dillingham said.

Lake Auburn’s early ice out should come as no surprise to most Mainers, especially given that the state experienced its third warmest winter on record this year while 63 percent of the country experienced below normal temperatures according to the National Climatic Data Center. And folks living in northern Maine experienced the warmest winter on record.

While Caribou residents endured a stretch of 40 days without getting up to 32 degrees during the 2008-09 winter, temperatures this year climbed above the freezing mark 46 days, according to the National Weather Service. The normal average winter temperature for the Aroostook County city is 14.6 degrees, but the average daily temperature of winter 2009-10 was 23.8 degrees.

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