By Ashley Day
When you tune in to the Travel Channel Wednesday night, you’ll witness the best food, fun, and beauty small town America has to offer. You’ll follow three teams’ coast-to-coast adventures of their lifetimes and share in the excitement, surprise, charm and distinction the 2012 Best Small Towns in America offer visitors. What you won’t see are the Friendliest and Most Patriotic routes, and you simply can’t miss them. Although every one of our towns showed hospitality and town pride, nothing compares to the 12 that earned top spots. Here’s what Rogue Riders and Midlife Road Trip experienced as they crossed the country.
The Most Patriotic Small Towns in America
MidLife Road trip changed their definition of patriotism throughout their four-week road trip. They said, “It’s not just the number of flags or monuments, memorials, programs; it’s not even just for the people who serve. It’s how you care for the people who were fought for.”
That redefinition is just what they found in Gainesville, Texas, their winning town.
“No matter what it was, it was intuitive to them to help. Here was a town where it felt like home for us. You get there and feel like you belong there. It’s a group of people who are completely selfless. They are so interested in instilling a legacy in their children so that they grow up honoring this country. They live and breathe patriotism, to their families and to anyone who comes to town. They opened up their door, invited us on their porch, and showed us how they live. They said talk to anybody; it was just natural and organic.”
Of the five runners up:
- Watertown, NY created the Adopt a Platoon program, where local organizations such as schools, churches, and community groups send letters and care packages to deployed troops. Here Rick and Sandi joined Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division, in celebrating the Army’s 237th Birthday. At this first stop the team was reminded “patriotism isn’t something tangible, and that was never more evident than in Watertown. It’s a feeling, it’s a deed, it’s second nature.”
- DeLand, FL is a city where patriotism runs deep everyday. Museums, Main Street, and a Magnificent Mansion celebrate DeLand’s past, present and future. It’s a town of many surprises, interesting people, and a people proud enough to host the Wounded Warrior Project.
- Enterprise, AL says with just the right mix of people, adversity can easily turn into diversity. Enterprise is proud of its rich military heritage and has a close relationship as well as proximity to neighboring Fort Rucker, which is the Home of Army Aviation. They have monuments throughout the city that honor the military, re-enactors, Quilts of Valor, and no shortage of fun.
- Duluth, GA is an amazing community of down home, friendly folks in a beautiful green town that children are free to play in. The small town with big ideas revolves around family. The very first thing you see when you drive into Duluth are American flags and markers lining the streets. These markers bear the names of deceased U.S. military serviceman and women who served their country. It is an awesome and very humbling sight.
- Mandan, ND is where the west begins and the patriotism never ends. It’s the modern day wild west passing down the tradition of rodeo to generation after generation. Find North Dakota’s Veterans Cemetery and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, where history comes to life.
The Friendliest Small Towns in America
The Rogue Riders used to plan agenda-driven trips, but found that people are way bigger than moments of excitement. Spending time with people was the most impacting experience, especially in Murray, Kentucky, their winning town.
“We heard it feels like home in Murray more than anywhere else. They were playful and welcoming and you never felt out of place. They had a way of bringing you in and we made friends. The whole town was user-friendly, a group of at least 30 people joined us at every activity because they knew what was going on. They had hours to prepare and still welcomed us with homemade food and goodies from their gardens.”
Of the five runners up:
- Joplin, MO blew the Rogue Riders away with their resilience after a deadly tornado a year before. When visiting the Spiva Art Center exhibit, the team was surprised to see a sense of humor amidst the loss, like a photo of a boat wrapped around a 35-foot tree with a plywood sign reading ‘Inquire within for boat pricing.’ The photos embodied the people of Joplin–resilient and connected. The pair praised the town for so many great things to do and a great community of friends.
- Frisco, TX has a buzz and an energy that says friendly. The whole town is designed to get people out and together. The largest of the friendliest stops, the Rogue Riders were impressed by the immaculately clean streets and parks and original shops and restaurants. Almost all of the shops were locally-owned boutiques and the restaurants were far from “chainy”. The town is incredibly intentional when it comes to city planning and organization, and all the government organizations work together with the common goal of their townspeople in the forefront of their minds.
- College Station, TX, also known as Aggie Country, treated Bob and Jen to tours of the A&M, the George Bush Museum and Library, and the Republic House. The pair also experienced rock climbing, local nightlife, firefighter training, and the people from Still Creek Children’s Ranch who really touched them. “Meeting the man that started that ranch we realized that’s life; life is about being a good person,” they concluded.
- Cloudcroft, NM, a town of 750, had 80% of the town show up to greet the Rogue Riders and hosted a Margarita Monday for them. The town was so chill and mellow. It’s surrounded by desolate desert and is an oasis in the clouds. You immediately feel the stress level go down in this place that’s not affected by the hustle and bustle below. There’s a change in pace here—not a single stop light, and over several nights, you start to recognize people.
- San Luis Obispo, CA is in love with its lifestyle–the whole town knows they live where people vacation. The weather is perfect, people smile, and it’s laid back. There’s a symbiotic vibe and energy that’s all part of the slow life. The taste of the town is in the wine, so much revolves around that culture. There’s a sense of community between the vineyards, the restaurants, the farmers, and the people; you really get to know the people through these wines that they make.
See what our three Travel Channel teams shared about their towns, too! And tune in Wednesday at 8 pm EST to go along for the ride and discover the Most Beautiful, Most Fun, and Best for Food in Small Town America.