Duluth did it. Residents awoke Monday morning to learn they had claimed the title of Best Town in America — at least in the eyes of outdoorsy voters in a national online contest.
A social-media campaign from local boosters propelled Duluth atop city after city in weeks of head-to-head competition in the online Outside magazine contest. It ended late Sunday night with Duluth beating Provo, Utah, with 66,758 votes to 54,875.
The city routinely got more votes than any other of the 64 cities originally competing through six rounds of bracket-style faceoffs that began weeks ago. A local grass-roots organization spurred a VoteDuluth campaign and website. Even Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken urged Twitter followers to vote for Duluth last week.
Mayor Don Ness acknowledged that it was just an online contest, but called it a big deal for his city, nonetheless.
"This contest has been an effective measure of city pride and enthusiasm, and people invest in cities that they are confident and optimistic about — they invest in their home, their business, their own skill sets, their careers, etc.," Ness wrote on his Facebook page Sunday evening, anticipating a win well before the contest ended at 10:59 p.m.
For too long, he wrote, pessimism hung over the city, with people too ready to accept that Duluth would never reach its potential. "Is this change real?" he continued. "Ask yourself this question … Do you think Duluth could have won this contest 20 years ago?"
In earlier rounds, Duluth beat Columbia, Mo.; Athens, Ohio; La Crosse, Wis.; Minneapolis, and Asheville, N.C.
Outside asked voters which town was the best place to live if they love an active lifestyle. Duluth's boosters posted photos of Lake Superior and promoted the area's range of activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking and skiing. VoteDuluth touted "outdoor adventures within the city limits."
The magazine will feature Duluth in September. In the meantime, it is advising readers to "maybe start planning a trip to Duluth."