There's definitely excitement over a proposed new state park on Lake Vermilion.

But the question lingers: How to pay for it?

Mark Holsten, Department of Natural Resources commissioner, proposed using state lottery money from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to finance bonds that would be issued to pay for the 2,500 acres near Tower.

But the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which recommends to the Legislature how Trust Fund dollars are spent, rejected the request. Money for the park wasn't included in the LCCMR's 2008 recommendations, which included 36 projects totaling $22.8 million.

Holsten's request was unusual in that it would have required about $6.6 million a year for more than 20 years for principal and interest for a $97 million bond, which also would have paid for wildlife management areas, forests and trails.

"We recognized ... that it was a deviation from traditional uses," Holsten said last week. Despite the setback, Holsten said the state is moving forward to try to make the park a reality.

The state still must negotiate a purchase price for the land from U.S. Steel Corp. Appraisals still are being done. And various ways to pay for it are being discussed, he said. The Legislature must approve LCCMR recommendations, and it's possible the DNR will ask legislators to reconsider the agency's funding proposal.

Holsten said there is growing support for the park, but the window of opportunity is small. The state must close on the deal by Aug. 1, or the company has said it will develop the land.

"This is the right thing to do," Holsten said. "I'm still very optimistic about it."

Turkey flock drowns

Conservation officer Jeff Halverson of Staples got a call recently about a bunch of dead turkeys floating in a lake near Cushing.

"There were about nine in the water," he said. "I couldn't tell how long they had been dead. I think they wandered out onto thin ice and fell through."

They either drowned or died of hypothermia, Halverson figures.

"I've never seen that before," said Halverson, who has been a warden for 21 years.

Which begs the question: Can wild turkeys swim?

Yes.

While not built for it, wild turkeys apparently can swim short distances when necessary, said Eric Dunton, the DNR's new turkey biologist. A reference book confirmed that, he said.

But the birds near Cushing could have been trapped by the ice or succumbed to the sudden cold plunge.

Dogs running loose

Something else Halverson has never seen: so many reports of dogs chasing deer.

"I've never seen it so bad," he said. "This is the worst year ever."

Often dog owners don't understand why they can't let their dogs run free, he said. Dogs can chase down deer, especially when snow is crusted. State law allows people to shoot dogs seen "wounding, killing or pursuing in a way that endangers big game" from Jan. 1-July 14. Advised Halverson: "Keep your dogs home."

A passionate mistake

And then there was the 320-pound concrete 8-point buck statue that had stood in a yard near Bigfork for five years, minding its own business. It was badly damaged recently by a feisty but perhaps nearsighted buck, which mistook it for the real thing.

Finally ... some snow

Snow that was expected to hit the state Saturday should be a boost to snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. Some trails were open in northeastern Minnesota before the weekend snow.

But DNR officials warned snowmobilers that though the season officially started Saturday, the 20,000 miles of state trails may not be ready to ride.

Trails must be cleared of deadfalls, signs need to be in place and the gates need to be opened. About 12 inches of snow is needed to properly pack and groom trails. And about 5 inches of clear ice is needed on lakes and waterways to support snowmobiles. Officials said it might be a few weeks before trails are ready.

Did you know?

• The ice fishing season is under way in some areas, but anglers should use extreme caution and check ice conditions before venturing out. Some small lakes and bays in the Brainerd area had 3 to 4 inches of ice late last week. But wind on Friday reopened some lakes, including Minnetonka. So be careful out there. Meanwhile, the big St. Paul Ice Fishing Show ends today at St. Paul RiverCentre.

• Pheasant hunting will be allowed on a portion of the Vermillion Highlands Research, Recreation and Wildlife Management Area in Dakota County from Dec. 10-Jan. 1. Hunting will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. Designated pheasant hunting parking spaces will be available. If a space is open, a person may park and go hunting. If all slots are occupied, you must come back at another time.

• Mille Lacs Lake anglers now can harvest four walleyes up to 20 inches long, with one trophy more than 28 inches. Those regulations, which were expected, went into effect Saturday for the winter.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com