Voyageurs National Park (NP #23) and a heaping helping of Minnesota Nice (State #38)

“Minnie-” like Minnie Mouse and “-sota” not “soda”.

I drove through Minnesota earlier this trip between South Dakota and Iowa to visit a friend studying to become a surgeon in Minneapolis. We had a great weekend, and it was cool to hang out with one of my good friends who I haven’t seen in a long time. Adam and I grabbed a fancy dinner at Butcher & The Boar financed by the dad of our common friend. We rode bikes around the art event Northern Spark (site). And we fixed up his girlfriends plot at the public garden.



Fast-forward three weeks (7/6/15) and I found myself re-entering Minnesota through Duluth, with Voyageurs National Park (site / wiki) as my next destination.


The park is only accessible by water so I arranged to have a kayak dropped off for me at the boat dock near the Rainy Lake Visitors Center. Established in 1975, Voyageurs is intended to honor the frontiersmen who trapped and traded animal furs through the waterway.


Voyageurs National Park.


It was a fun paddling around and learning about the history behind the Rainy Lake gold rush in the 1890’s, but I could only access a small area of the park.


My range was limited in the kayak. The area of the park I explored was never too far from cabins on the visitor center side of the lake. Fishing boats motored by frequently. It didn’t feel like wilderness. If I could do it any way I wanted, I’d take three or four days to sail around the southern coastline of Rainy Lake. That’s where there’s wilderness.


The big news for the day occurred while exiting the park. I stopped in Ranier to ask about a Minnesota state flag flying in front of a huge statue of a figure who looked like Davy Crocket. I got in touch with Shelley at the Rainer administration office and she helped me make the swap.


Big Vick in Ranier. Thanks Shelley!


The figure is not Davy Crocket. His name is Big Vick, and there is a story.


A man named Vick used to live in the area that would become Voyageurs NP. He lived out on one of the interior islands. The organization lobbying for the park requested that all residents within the proposed park boundary move somewhere else. Vick was adamantly opposed to the idea of moving, and he commissioned this 25 foot statue to be created, shipped out, and installed on his property in defiance. Eventually, Vick lost his battle with the national park service, and Big Vick was moved to the town of Ranier where it now stands today.


Shelley offered to buy me a beer at the city owned Ranier Municipal Liquor Store, which is also a bar. After the work day is over “Muni”, as its affectionately called, is a gathering spot for locals. One beer turned into a couple, and I was introduced to the team. Shelley’s best friend Tammy had it out for these clumsy flying beetles – squished every one she saw. Tammy’s husband Tom showed up next, with stories of being stationed in various port towns while in the Navy. Gretchen finished her shift behind the bar and came out back to our picnic table. Her husband Todd made sure to tell me how impressed he was with my trip this far, and, prompted by the two US atlas’ opened on the table, all of us kept sharing stories about traveling the country. We waved at the float planes flying over town, we cursed the noisy trains which crept through every hour, and we gossiped about the latest news in town.


A not too well liked woman had left her female dog tied up out front of her property. There isn’t a leash law in Ranier. Instead dogs are registered with the city, assigned a number, and allowed to roam free. A male dog happened upon the female, and nature took took its course. After realizing the rendezvous, the lady chased off the male dog with pepper spray, but not before he had time to romance the female. The result of this interaction is yet to be determined, but the general consensus was not sympathetic to the woman and her disregard for the no leash policy.


I had a blast talking with them. Everything was fair game: Native American relations, the South Carolina Confederate Flag issue, politics – specifically Donald Trump, etc. They didn’t believe me when I said that hanging out with them was the most I’d talked and drank with locals so far on my trip, but it was.


Thanks for the hospitality.



2 Comments on “Voyageurs National Park (NP #23) and a heaping helping of Minnesota Nice (State #38)

  1. I was a blast meeting you, Jay. We loved hearing about your travels around the country! When I got the random seeming phone call about wanting our Minnesota flag, I was certainly curious. We are always happy to have travelers visit our town which we think is lovely and very special. You should try us in the Winter time to see why they call us the Icebox of the Nation. We wish you the best in your travels and your life! If you are ever in Minnie Sota again, please look us up!

    1. Thanks Sherril! I may have to take you up on visiting in the winter. Right now I’m sure I have a pretty incomplete picture of what it’s like to live up there. Cheers!

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