BIRCHDALE, Minn. — Your cell phone might produce a message welcoming you to Canada. That is the iPhone’s mistake, not yours. When you visit Franz Jevne State Park, as long as you stay on the southern half of the Rainy River, you have not crossed into a foreign land, even if your cell phone literally has its signals crossed and is picking up the waves from a Canadian carrier.
At fewer than 120 acres, this is Minnesota’s smallest state park, established in 1967 after the land was donated by the patriarch of the Jevne family. But the compact size and remote location, off state highway 11, between Baudette and International Falls, have never been a drawback for visitors to this scenic patch of Rainy River waterfront.
The river, which runs roughly 70 miles between Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods, holds an important place in the history of European exploration of this region. In the 1600s and 1700s, teams of men from Montreal in birch bark canoes would travel over the Great Lakes, across the Grand Portage at the tip of what is now Minnesota’s Arrowhead, through the myriad lakes of the modern day Boundary Waters, then down the Rainy River to Lake of the Woods, where they established Fort St. Charles in 1732 — the year a man named George Washington was born.
In the past three centuries, the view has evolved somewhat for visitors to the riverbanks, as there is now rolling farmland on the Ontario side of the river, and campers at one of the park’s 21 sites can hear the occasional car rolling by on the highway. The abundance of wildlife wandering by, and the fish in the river, have hardly changed.
For the smallest park in the state system, Franz Jevne features more than two miles of hiking trails, both along the river and on the nearby banks. One scenic highlight in this mostly flat part of the state is an outcrop of ancient rock that offers a commanding view and a perfect picnic spot. The Rainy River is shallow and rocky in the stretch near the park, making it a challenge for boaters, depending on the time of year and the water level. There is a boat ramp on-site for those who want to get closer to the walleyes, northerns, bass and sturgeon.
In addition to eagles and other raptors that are common to the northern half of the state, Franz Jevne’s proximity to two major bodies of water mean that fish-eating birds like seagulls, cormorants and pelicans are a common sight for birders.
And you can see it all in the confines of Minnesota, even if your cell phone might think that you have left the country.
This is a sacred region for ancestors of the native people that inhabited Minnesota and Ontario for generations before the first Europeans arrived, with burial mound sites scattered throughout the area, on both sides of the river. Less than 25 miles upriver from Franz Jevne State Park is the largest of the region’s burial mound. Named the Grand Mound, the final resting place for countless native people is 25 feet high and 140 foot long and is the largest surviving prehistoric site in the Upper Midwest.
The riverside property is owned by the Minnesota Historical Society, which once operated an interpretive center and gift shop on site. The site and the walking trails to the mound have been closed to the public since 2002, but discussions are on-going with MNHS and others about the future of the site and if it may reopen to visitors at some point.