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How Minnesota’s smallest state park came to be

Franz Jevne State Park consists of just 120 acres on the shores of the Rainy River.

photo of rainy river from franz jevne state park
View of the Rainy River in Franz Jevne State Park

Franz Jevne State Park is Minnesota’s smallest state park, consisting of approximately 120 acres of hardwood forest and wetlands. Stretching along the southern shoreline of the Rainy River in Koochiching County, the park represents the combination of natural resources and social history that built Minnesota’s far north. It shares a rich culture with the Manitou Burial Mounds, a National Historic Site of Canada, on the river’s northern bank.

The geological history of Franz Jevne State Park surfaces in a 2.1-billion-year-old outcrop of bedrock within the park and in the boulders that form the nearby rapids, known as Ginwaajiwanaang (Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung, The Place of the Long Rapids) in Ojibwe. In English, they’re also called Long Sault Rapids.

Archaeological evidence indicates that humans first passed through the Rainy River Basin about 9,700 years ago, after the region’s last glacial ice sheet began its retreat. More consistent habitation began about 2,000 years ago (20 CE) when Native Americans—probably the ancestors of multiple Algonquian groups, including the Cree—began to gather annually along the riverbank to trade, socialize, fish, hunt, and celebrate together from April until October. They dispersed into smaller family groups for the winter. From spring to early summer, the fast-flowing, clear water and rocky riverbed of the rapids provided spawning grounds for lake sturgeon, a staple of the Native American diet along with wild rice and game.

These early inhabitants also buried their dead nearby. A series of burial mounds runs along both sides of the Rainy River for ninety miles that includes the Grand Mound Historic Site, about twenty miles southeast of the present-day park. Across the river, the Manitou Burial Mounds are protected at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre, a National Historic Site of Canada.

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The first European to visit the Rainy River Basin is believed to have been the French Canadian Jacques de Noyon, who camped on the shore of the Rainy River during the winter of 1688–1689. Next came fur traders and voyageurs who followed the river to Lake of the Woods and up to Hudson Bay. French Missionaries arrived to Christianize the area’s Native people in the 1730s, and French and then British trading companies established forts along the river to support the fur trade throughout the 1700s.

Starting in the 1870s, loggers moved illegally onto the Rainy River’s south bank, followed by squatters and settler-colonists. The river served as the major transportation system, increasingly enduring damage to its banks and contamination of its water caused by log runs, as well as pollution from pulp and paper mills upstream. Meanwhile, the Canadian government removed the Rainy River Ojibwe from their traditional lands to reserves on the north side of the river.

One of the early property owners in Koochiching County was Wisconsin native Franz Jevne, who moved to Big Falls in 1908 to open the town’s only law office. Four years later he was elected Koochiching County attorney, a position he held for nearly twenty years. Throughout his career in northern Minnesota, he bought and sold multiple properties, including the river’s southern shoreline along the Long Sault Rapids.

In 1961, the US National Park Service conducted a study of the Rainy River, resulting in a recommendation to preserve the river’s shoreline by establishing a 1,300-acre state park. At that time, however, the most scenic and historically significant land within the proposed park was owned by the family of Franz Jevne, and the family was not interested in selling the property.

The proposal to create a state park along the Rainy River languished without access to the Jevne property, but in 1966 the Jevne family offered to donate their land to the state of Minnesota. The offer came with a stipulation that it should become a park named for Franz Jevne. Although the site was small compared to other parks, the Minnesota legislature and senate approved the proposal in 1967, and Governor Harold LeVander signed the law creating Franz Jevne State Wayside Park. The word “wayside” was removed from the name two years later when the state park system unified its terminology.

In 2015, the Parks and Recreation Division of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources established a system-wide recreational plan to guide development for all of the state’s parks and recreation areas. Parks were organized into three categories: destination parks, to offer comprehensive resources and facilities and attract visitors; core parks, to provide well-maintained facilities and basic services; and rustic parks, with limited facilities and self-directed services. A year later, a management plan specific to Franz Jevne State Park outlined recommendations for maintaining a rustic environment that protects the natural and cultural resources of the property.

Franz Jevne State Park offers limited and basic amenities, such as wooden picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilets, unpaved trails, and minimal signage. Most visitors come to fish, to camp in one of the drive-in or walk-in sites, and for hiking and birdwatching.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.