The Town of French (Township 60N, – Range 21W.) is located in northern St. Louis County, twenty miles north of Hibbing, and adjacent to the Itasca County Line. County Highway #5 provides easy access to the community from the north and south. Town of French is home of the community of Side Lake and the Sturgeon Chain of Lakes. The Chain is comprised of five lakes that include Big Sturgeon, Little Sturgeon, South Sturgeon, West Sturgeon and Side Lake. Neighboring lakes include Perch Lake and Beatrice Lake. Pickerel Lake, a designated trout lake, the more remote Shannon Lake, and a handful of smaller water bodies and wetlands also personify the landscape. The Sturgeon and Shannon Rivers both flow north within the township and are important water resources. Ten percent of the township’s total surface area is comprised of open water, and it is these lakes and rivers that give the Town of French much of its identity.
In 1998, the year-round population of the community was 567 (U.S. Census Bureau – 2010) but during the summertime, the seasonal population can swell to about 5,000. There has been a trend in recent years towards converting seasonal cabins, to year-round dwellings.
The Town of French is home of McCarthy Beach State Park, which features one of the premier swimming beaches in northern Minnesota. McCarthy Beach boasts eight miles of hiking trails that wind through an undisturbed wilderness setting. Numerous campsites are located among magnificent virgin pines. During the warmer and traditional tourism months, the park draws numerous visitors. In winter months, the park’s Nordic ski trails, ice fishing, and the explosion of the snowmobile industry draws more people every year.
On a combination of private and public lands, the timber industry impacts the community with an estimated annual harvest of 200 acres, yielding approximately 5,000 cords of wood. The Town of French has historically, and will continue to be relied upon for its forest resources. This is due to its proximity to various paper, board, and sawmills, the quality of timber, and the level topography and soil conditions.
The Town of French is the owner and administrator of a fifty-five acre parcel in the heart of the community. Extensive development of this reclaimed borrow pit over the past few decades has turned the area into a well-designed community center, complete with a baseball field, volleyball courts, a tennis and basketball court, hockey rink, hiking/ski trail, community forest, three-season pavilion, and community meeting facility with the Township office. This facility provides recreational opportunities for youth and the community to spend their free time in a healthy outdoor setting.
The combination of Side Lake’s close proximity to the Iron Range, the lakes, beautiful park, and beautiful rural forests have made it a much sought after area for tourism, recreational activities, seasonal and year-round residents.